Smart Contact Lenses Will Soon Be upon Us

After Google experimented with integrating a glucose level sensor^ on a contact lens, it was only a matter of time before we would see more innovation in this field. A recent patent filing from Sony describes the intention of putting a camera inside a contact lens^.

Privacy concerns

While this toy won’t exactly be invisible –at least not at first – the privacy implications are quite serious. We’re still at least a few years away from market availability, but I imagine that after several product cycles, such a camera could reach a pretty good recording resolution. Coupled with wireless transmission to a storage device, people will eventually be able to record everything they see, everywhere they go.

To be sure, there are many advantages to having this sort of camera hidden in plain sight – pun intended. For example, it could be used as a self-defense mechanism because it would give the possibility to apprehend criminals and present irrefutable evidence against them in court. There’s also the enormous convenience of being able to record important moments or useful information at the blink of an eye.

When it comes to privacy, as our technology progresses, it will be increasingly difficult to detect and prohibit the use of this sort of devices. Evidently, in the wrong hands, such gizmos can also do a lot of harm. We will likely have to adapt to these changes and hope that the path they lead us on will be a good one.

All this reminds me of an episode^ from the fascinating “Black Mirror” series, where people use a similar technology to record and relive any part of their lives. Such discoveries will drastically change our culture and society.

Potential

There are quite a few challenges that will have to be overcome, such as powering the contact lens. We are already able to wirelessly power devices, but let’s also not forget that the human body itself is also capable of generating and conducting electricity and therefore even data.

The potential of the contact lens as a carrier for various technologies is enormous. When manufacturers will finally be able to integrate even a half-decent display on a contact lens, we’ll witness the birth of an extremely lucrative business segment. The first steps towards this breakthrough have already been taken^.

So far, all our experiments regarding augmented reality have involved clunky glasses. In seven to fifteen years, we might be able to have our smartphones implanted in our eyes and ears. Many will find this prospect rather scary, but many also consider their grandparents to be woefully out of touch with technology. It might soon be our turn to be out of touch.

Conclusion

I think that we can say with a fair degree of certainty that smart contact lenses will flourish in the years to come. At least until we’re able to feed information directly to the optic nerve, their form factor makes them the holy grail of augmented reality. Perhaps they’ll never reach the high performance of larger devices, but I imagine contact lenses will become one of the most important “wearable” technologies of the 20s.

As nanotechnology progresses, humans are bound to integrate more and more devices with their bodies. I don’t know if this is good or bad. It’s up to us as a society to correctly negotiate this upcoming technological leap.

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2 Comments

  1. Climber

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    • Reply

      True, but there’s a big difference between messing with the brain using sound-waves (which even today we still know that we would need a humongous amount of research to even reach prototype stage), and a smart contact lens. For the smart contact lens, it’s a matter of miniaturization and power transmission. Much fewer unknowns, and much greater possibility of reaching the market and making a profit. Which will why this will succeed (5-10 years), while the other is going to remain in “vaporware” territory for many more years to come :).

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