Telescopic Contact Lenses Zoom In With a Wink of the Eye

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Swiss researchers have created a high-tech contact lens that gives wearers a telescopic view of the world, and paired it with smart glasses that can adjust the view with a simple wink. But it's not for birdwatchers or jewel appraisers. It's for the millions of people with impaired vision, particularly macular degeneration, that normally can't be improved by contact lenses.

The prototype lens is actually a tiny assemblage of smaller lenses and even smaller mirrors, and provide a magnification factor of 2.8x. They're also perforated with tiny air channels, allowing air to reach the eye. Telescopic lenses like this can be implanted or put on glasses, but both options have serious drawbacks — a contact that does the same thing would be a boon to many.

The telescopic contact lens prototype, with a quarter for scale.Eric Tremblay / Joe Ford / EPFL

Perhaps the most impressive part, however, is the smart glasses that work in tandem with the contacts. These glasses have sensors built in to detect winks (but not blinks), letting the wearer turn on or off the magnification. Wink your right eye, and only certain polarized light will pass through the glasses and contact lens, giving a telescopic view — wink your left eye, and differently polarized light is permitted through a different part of the lens, returning vision to normal.

The DARPA-funded project, led by Eric Tremblay at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, has been underway since 2013. The lens and glasses are still in prototype form, but could be on the market in the next few years, providing many of the vision-impaired with a flexible and powerful solution.



—Devin Coldewey