Film coating transforms contact lenses into computer screens

February 4, 2016 by Michele Nardelli

A polymer film coating with the ability to turn contact lenses into computer screens is set to transform the wearable visual aids into the next generation of consumer electronics.

Scientists from the University of South Australia's Future Industries Institute have successfully completed "proof of concept" research on a polymer film coating that conducts electricity on a , with the potential to build miniature electrical circuits that are safe to be worn by a person. 

UniSA researcher from the FII, Associate Professor Drew Evans said the technology was a "game changer" and could provide one of the safest methods to bring people and their smart devices closer together.

"We're talking about anything from a simple sensor that can measure the amount of glucose in your blood through to actually creating electronic displays so rather than having something like a pair of glasses that's acting like a computer, you can actually generate images directly on your contact lens," Assoc Prof Evans said.

 "We have always known that our film coating technologies had potential for many applications and now we have taken that a step further by proving that we can make biocompatible, conducting polymers at the nanoscale and grow them directly on a contact lens."

University of South Australia polymer coating research is a game changer for hi-tech contact lens industry.

The University of South Australia's Future Industries Institute focuses on building knowledge and capacity in core future industries through national and global research partnerships.

The FII has partnered with a world leader in contact lens development from the United Kingdom in the project.

Assoc Prof Evans said the breakthrough had been two years in the making but had stemmed from a decade's worth of fundamental research.

"The sky's the limit and the work we're doing with our industry partner aims to give them a game changing technology," he said.

"Obviously the timeframe to go from where we are now to each of these different applications is unknown but it's the first step towards being able to do a lot of that.

"We've proven that these materials go together and the next phase of the project is to make them stick and make them robust.

"Once we achieve that step the next step would be to scale up the manufacturing process and work with the team in the UK to develop a commercial product.

"If we can demonstrate that we can get it to stick then that is the game changer and the world is our oyster."

Other FII achievements with the thin film coatings include the development of the world's first fully plastic car mirrors and electrochromic windows, or smart windows.

"These are the windows that with the flick of a switch will darken and then you can flick them back to transparent to control the amount of light that comes in and out," Assoc Prof Evans said.

"We've also modified those polymers for use in camouflage for military and there's a large research activity around how they can be used in new types of batteries.

"The excitement from the industry point of view is that this opens up a range of new opportunities for their businesses.

 "The next big leap is to develop complementary technologies to read the information transmitted by the conducting polymers.

 "What is really significant is that the materials we are developing are not only safe but also have the potential for a range of personalised health monitoring applications that could make life simpler for people struggling with chronic health problems."

The complete proof of concept research results have recently been published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Explore further: Breakthrough in augmented reality contact lens: Curved LCD display holds widespread potential

More information: Thierry Moser et al. Hydrophilic Organic Electrodes on Flexible Hydrogels, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b10831

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6 comments

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KBK
5 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2016
We're getting into near molecular levels of requirement for pixel sizes, with such a device, which is that close to the eye proper. Plus we'll have focal and resolution issues, and much more in the way of problems. One can't take their cues from sci-fi and action films use of high tech lenses on this one, as those scenarios don't take the basic physics into account.

Basically put, optical lensing requirements still exist and even the eye itself follows these rules -nature not having found a way around the physics of the situation. The lens is in exactly the wrong spot to be anything but a filter--until we make individually perfected molecular level pixels, which have no charging, signal flow, or power requirement aspects.

Which, as a set, is pretty tall order. Basically, all things that could be incorrect and impossible as a barrier--actually are incorrect and impossible and are barriers.
TopCat22
1 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2016
Apple should jump on this. All one will need is these lenses and an iPhone. We can get rid of glasses, Binoculars, Books, Magazines, TVs, Movie Theaters, monitors, billboards and just about everything else all. See what we want when we want from anywhere we are.
EyeNStein
5 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2016
The pixels would have to be holographic to present an image at a viewable distance. Any sufficiently powerful pixel focusing lenses would make normal vision impossibly painful.
LagomorphZero
3 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2016
given the advances in metamaterials with custom refractive indexes, this technology seems completely attainable in the future. Real lenses are so last century..
Eikka
4 / 5 (1) Feb 05, 2016
I never understood how they are supposed to operate as computer displays, when the contact lens is too close for the eye to focus anything on the retina.

If you embed a light source in the lens, the light would simply appear as if someone's shining a flashlight into your eyeball.

There's a further problem in that contact lenses move all the time. I can't use contact lenses because the lenses in my eyes are slightly oval, which requires correction to be applied in a certain direction. There are contact lenses that correct for the distortion, and I have bought them, but they're sub-optimal because the lens keeps shifting and turning when you blink and my vision comes and goes. The lens is not glued to your eyeball, but clings to a film of liquid.

If there was some sort of projector in the contact lens, it would do the same and the projected image would shift and turn around the retina. It would be just as distracting as watching floaters in your eyeball.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 05, 2016
Then there's also the technical issue that in order to e.g. read text from a contact-lens monitor, the display has to remain static while your eyeballs scan the lines. The fovea is only a small dot, and the rest of your retina doesn't have the resolution for sharp images, so the fovea has to scan the field of view to see properly. The area you actually see in sharp detail is about the size of a large coin at 3 ft distance, and the rest is a reconstruction by the brain.

When the display is fixed to your eyeball, it moves along with your gaze, and you can only see a very small center portion of the display in detail.

You would actually need some sort of active steering that compensates for that and keeps the image steady relative to your head while your eyes move around. Otherwise it's useless.

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