In the future, you might read e-mail on digitally enhanced contact lenses
November 22nd, 2011
12:30 PM ET

In the future, you might read e-mail on digitally enhanced contact lenses

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Thinking about this makes my eyes hurt.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Finland's Aalto University have developed a prototype of a contact lens that would project digital images onto the retinas of its wearer. And, for the first time, they actually tested the lenses on live creatures - in this case, rabbits that underwent anesthesia.

That may seem like it's out of left field, but researchers for years have been working on the idea that we should somehow overlay digital information on top of the real world. Lots of smartphone apps, including Wikitude, Spyglass and Golfscape - as well as some prototypes for "Terminator" glasses - are trying to do this.

As these researchers noted this week in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, contact lenses that display digital information are the holy grail for this genre of reality-bending work. Eventually, projected displays from contact lenses could replace all the other screens we look at. You could end up reading your e-mail on your contacts.

Here's the paper's description of the future of "augmented reality":

Wearable computing will likely provide new ways to manage information and interact with the world. For example, personal see-through devices could overlay computer-generated visual information on the real world, providing immediate, handsfree access to information. The first step toward always-accessible information and superimposed, data-rich imagery will most likely be implemented in see-through eyeglass displays. Ultimately, a much less cumbersome display for augmented reality may take the form of a contact lens.

The lenses, they say, could communicate with other gadgets to send and receive information:

In the future, contact lens systems may receive data from external platforms (e.g. mobile phones) and provide real-time notification of important events. As contact lens based biosensors advance, they may alert the wearer of physiological anomalies, such as irregular glucose or lactate levels. With more colors and increased resolution, contact lenses may display text, be used with gaming devices, or offer cues from navigation systems. Our long-term goal is to create a display that can be comfortably worn in the form of a contact lens, which will include a pixel array, focusing optics, an antenna, and circuitry for power harvesting, radio communication, and pixel control.

But don't get too excited just yet. So far, the prototype contact lens developed by these researchers only displays one pixel's worth of data. And, so far, they've only tested the lens on rabbits.

Challenges abound when you're trying to store and project data from tiny contact lenses, the researchers say. For one, it's difficult to attach an antenna and a power source to something as small and thin as a contact - and to do so without obstructing vision. They settled on an antenna that wraps around the edge of the contact lens. And the researchers used radio frequencies - within federal limits, they said - to help the lens communicate with wireless sources.

Check out this video for some more info on how these lenses are built:

Despite the limitations of this prototype, the research team is hopeful about the future of augmented reality, as presented by digitally enhanced contact lenses. This was the first demonstration that showed a contact lens fitted with radio chips, antennas and a light source could be "operated on live (rabbit) eyes."

And even though the lenses only showed a single dot of digital light, there's a lot you could do with that, they write.

A display with a single controllable pixel could be used in gaming, training, or giving warnings to the hearing impaired. We also believe it is possible to develop systems with better resolution, color, range and computing power. Displays with a handful of pixels could be used to provide directional information, and displays with hundreds of pixels used to read short emails or text messages. Although high resolution, full-color, stand-alone contact lens displays might be many years away, the technological demonstrations to date depict a clear path containing a number of useful intermediate devices that can be feasibly produced in the near to medium terms. If such displays were successfully deployed, they would fundamentally change the nature of interaction between humans and visual information.

Let's just hope they have an off switch for driving.

(via Physorg)

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Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech
soundoff (102 Responses)
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  10. Karen Brooks

    I was told i have Macula degeneration in the left eye .They say it has stopped and for some reasom they dont expect it to affect the other eye.I am an atrist and this was good news but i have developed a strange set of sympons in both eyes.I have been to med doctors specialitst aft er specialist.Round and round I go no body knows nobody knows.Is there someone who is innterested in a mystery> Is ther a doctor house.Is there a new fungus ,mole or virus witch affectd the eyes and body .Karen Broos 305 9516623 or ckarenride at

    December 3, 2011 at 7:45 am | Reply
  11. DingleDick

    Students will embrace this for cheating on exams. Brilliant! And if you thought texting while driving is a problem now, think of all the car accidents when this puppy becomes commercial!

    November 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  12. S93se

    What a complete waste of resources and energy. Complete and utter rubbish.

    November 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  13. Cvh

    In the future you could see things no one else could see... Giggity

    November 25, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply
  14. Kelehendros

    Still would rather have cyber eyes.

    November 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  15. blanca

    i believe it's a magnificent idea, although if every screen affects our eyes, living with those on them all the time might not be so great. but having maps displayed it'd be awesome. but we could get our contacts hacked and make everyone else prettier than they really are, which would be hilarious! hahaha the endless possibilities

    November 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  16. heather

    They are inventing things we are not intelligent enough to need. Let me know when they can replace my brain with something with a faster processer.

    November 24, 2011 at 8:44 am | Reply
  17. JerryAtric1Der

    Best to not waste time speculating on a future that our mental capacity cannot fathom. It's best to revoke research funding that makes this story. Our generation would better fare with a cure to an incurable rather then cash for bunnies and possible 22nd century eyes.

    November 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  18. Jimbo609

    Can anyone not focus on the possible and I do say possible downfalls. Think of this, people who cant see at night can now have these contacts and see perfectly, If you were hit by a car or there was a shooting and a car drove by you could focus on the licence plate and take a picture of it. They could be used as binoculors to see things that you would not ordinarly see. People that are deaf would benifit from this emencly. I hate how people always jump to the problems or potential problems.

    November 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  19. Yvonne

    i think this is getting out of hand, yeah technology is useful and all especially with communicating but this is a little out of hand. Should we really depend on technology this much? Is it necessary?

    November 23, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  20. A Person

    This is a good idea for when the world turns to complete trash. Put on your digital contact lenses and all that smog and pollution looks like a sunny day. All the trash in the street is gone and it appears clean. The beer goggle feature that turns all ugly women into super models. O the future has so many benefits.

    November 23, 2011 at 11:21 am | Reply
  21. jorge

    Neat idea, but also the worse of inventions. Of course relaying data would be convenient, but they seem to have forgotten what contacts were made for in the first place. So for my far-sighted eyes, all of the sudden I got something too close to look at at. More questions to solve it seems!

    November 23, 2011 at 10:59 am | Reply
  22. Hoyt

    Screen burn to the max!

    November 22, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  23. Bob from Pittsburgh

    I just can't wait to get spam on my contact lenses. . . now that my email and snail-mail boxes are jam-packed full!

    November 22, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  24. Wayne

    Wow, with night wearable contacts, you can watch commercials in your sleep.

    This is just another delivery method for commercials. Sometimes I wonder why the Americans (and everyone else) has to be bombarded by commercials every hour of the day and night. It would be wonderful to have a commercial free world. That might even give us time to develop "values"!

    November 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • Visionett

      These days "value" only means a good sale is going on!

      November 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  25. JunkRat

    Whoop-de dodo. Add a pair of nano-speakers attached to your auditory nerves and a ultra-micro microphone embedded in your vocal cords and a battery up your bum and you will be ready to rock!

    November 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  26. bezerkur

    I wouldnt be surprised in the future my great grand kids will be voting for a computer for president.

    November 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
  27. Josh

    These won't distract me while driving at all.

    November 22, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  28. Mik

    Well THANK GOD I don't wear contacts (or glasses)... there's NO WAAAYYYYY!!!!

    November 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  29. bezerkur

    how ironic movies like Blade Runner and Terminator which came out in the 80s is becomming reality. Hell even Star Trek nailed it with the communicator in the 60s. I wouldnt be surprised in 200 years (if we are still around) we end up being like Borgs.

    November 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  30. Stephen

    Ray Kurzweil predicted this years ago... no big deal.

    Most of technology can be predicted along Moore's Law.

    November 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  31. Joe

    Just another way for Nike and Coke to pitch their products at you. Augmented reality will turn life into an endless billboard pushing you to buy more crap you don't need in the first place. I'll stick with genuine reality, thanks.

    November 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • Jay

      Have you seen ?

      November 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  32. Scott

    No more glancing down at the GPS to see if I'm driving on the right road! (because they wont give me that HUD I've been begging for for years)

    November 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  33. George Patton

    Yeah right, that's just DUMB!!

    November 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  34. us1776

    Help ! Help !

    I'm being over-teched. No email implants for my eyes please.


    November 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  35. Don

    Next is a molar (tooth) transceiver for phone calls and RF transceiving. The special filling has an antenna and accepts AM/FM frequencies. No need to implant a small speaker, for the user can hear through his/her mouth. Right after that the "butt" fax will hit the market. It will be capable of sending and receiving faxes, with a fart indicating incoming fax notification so the user knows to attach the rectal device to a virtual printer. I shudder to speculate on where the paper goes for an outbound fax. Use your imagination.

    November 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      In a tooth?!

      That is so Arnold!

      November 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
    • Don

      P.S.: Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "shove it".

      November 22, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Reply

      absolute ingenuity! love this piece man. You are awesome. The "fart noises" bit is hilarious!

      November 23, 2011 at 10:48 am | Reply
      • Don

        Thanks man. I was hoping someone would figure out the humor. Very astute. Appreciate it.

        November 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  36. Sara Bean

    This is the most insane thing I've ever read. You only have two eyes! Technology like this could poison them. Can we not appreciate some of the beauties of the world without being bombarded by technology and emails in our eyes?!?!?

    November 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • reason

      We cannot.

      November 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  37. John Lane

    Free the rabbits! No more experimentation on the eyeballs of rabbits or any other animals! (or humans against their will)

    November 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  38. Malik

    In the future, you will be developing cancer in your eyeballs.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
    • hillman

      we already do.

      November 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  39. Borg#1

    Resistance is futile,..... the future is a Borg future humans.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  40. Me

    Why not do this for glasses?

    November 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Reply
    • John Sutter

      There are plenty of researchers working on that, too, but I think contacts are seen as the Holy Grail. There are actually several prototypes for augmented reality glasses. ( Thanks for the question and for reading! - John/CNN

      November 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  41. Tom

    And they'll call it ... the Apple i.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • wonkytonk

      the iEye! 🙂

      November 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Reply
      • JoePub

        And the OS will be the ieye Captain.

        November 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

      Actually, the eyepatch (ipatch) wouldnt be a bad idea.

      November 23, 2011 at 10:50 am | Reply
      • Don

        Absolutely love it! It's great (Ipatch). You should propose it to Apple right now. Wonder what would happen though if they had antenna problems. Would you need one? What happens? Your contact gets reset? Hope you're not driving.

        November 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  42. sheila

    they should test this crap on people, not animals. rabbits don't care about email, stupid humans.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  43. T3chsupport

    It's the eyePhone, by Mom's Friendly Robot Company.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
    • ProfessorFryBender

      Glad someone else saw that too

      November 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • joe08

      my first thought!

      November 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  44. Kris

    The 'Lost in Space' movie represented this technology 13 years ago.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  45. cynthia hicks

    OMG! its Torchwood!

    November 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  46. amrybrat

    I wonder how well it would help a soldier to shoot? Data from a laser range finding scope with a built in level for angle calculation could be sent to a micro processor then projected onto this contact. Interesting.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Reply
    • webster (i wrote a book)

      Army. Just sayin...

      November 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      A shooter still needs windage info.

      This is an expensive way to replace a good shooter.

      November 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  47. FormerNYer

    The Matrix is coming! The Matrix is coming!!!! LOL!

    November 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  48. Maurice

    I hope these aren't harmful for anyone's vision. Wearing an antenna around your retina sounds serious

    November 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  49. Don

    In the future, you might be tracked by digitally enhanced contact lenses.

    You can easily leave a cell phone at home when you don't want to be tracked, it's not so easy to insert and remove contact lenses every time you and your mistress want some privacy.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  50. Quentin

    "In the future, contact lens systems may receive data from external platforms"
    .......... I'm assuming this wireless interaction can't be called 'blue tooth'. How about 'red eye'?

    November 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  51. Mockingjay

    Everyone get back to work!

    November 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Reply
    • Charlybrains

      Oh dang it! You caught me... shame on me... 😦

      November 22, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  52. Billy

    This will take hacking to a whole new level. Now if only they could develope a contact lense that I could wear for an hour without gluing itself to my eye.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  53. RichieP

    Nonsense. It CAN"T be like the Terminator where you have a clear field of view in the center and other informatin around the edges. That only works in the movies because as you are watching the movie, you can move your eyes and look at the edge of the screen and read the information. If it you have a contact lens projecting information on the edge of your field of view, you can see that something is there, but you can never read it because when you move your eye to look at it, it always moves away. The only way to read anything would be to project the text onto your fovea centralis (smack dab in the center of your field of view) in which case it would distract you from noticing the car you are about to crash into (even if you could technically see the car past the text). You would still have to stop everything else you might be doing in order to read e-mail, in which case it is no more convenient than reading e-mail on your smartphone, unless you are trying to hide the fact that you are reading e-mail and not paying attention.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Reply
    • Billy

      It could work if they put an accelerometer in it, I still won't ever get these though.

      November 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  54. Dystopia

    Absolutely no way will I ever use these.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  55. DeeNYC

    and people thought texting and driving is distracting.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  56. Term2

    You can get a free pair but it will require that you see all of the ads of our sponsors.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      I think I could deal with that... How funny would it be to be driving along, get a Geico Ad asking you to drive safe, and rear-end the car in front of you?

      November 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  57. TheMovieFan

    Great. Another innovation we'll send to China.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Reply
    • Raza

      I guess you are too proud to admit that this is another innovation by an immgrant.

      November 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Reply
      • Brian

        Thus the importance of immigrants.

        November 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  58. Schmo

    Just the thought of that gives me a migraine.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  59. chromigula

    Sweet– one step closer to discarding these glasses and getting eyes like Molly Millions.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  60. Phil

    Very slow news day. This was thought up long ago. We're closer, but still pretty far out. 2030 and beyond.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  61. chris

    takes cheating to a whole new level...

    November 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  62. Pete

    The singularity is near,

    November 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • Dystopia

      There is no such thing. It will never actually happen.

      November 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      maybe not "Near," but definitely in the next few decades

      November 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Jerry

      Near is fine, it's not like we can get there anyway.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
  63. Xerxes_2011

    Yes! I cannot wait to get me a pair of new eyes! but wait, what if I get hacked? Someone may actually be looking at my dead-end job through my eyes and have a heart attack!

    November 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  64. Chris from Iowa

    Would it help you come up with witty responses like in the movie? Or, maybe, less stupid things to say in the YouTube comment section? Please, no cracks about how stupid this comment is. Terminators have feelings too.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Reply

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