Imagine having the ability to zoom in on objects with the literal blink of an eye. Sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick, right? Now that hypothetical is a reality, as researchers from the University of California San Diego have designed contact lenses that use the electrooculographic signal naturally produced by our eyes to perform vision-enhancing tasks like zooming in and out.
The contacts—which are actually soft robots—feature five electrodes per lens. The electrodes are spread across the contacts to act as muscles, and are made up of layers of electroactive polymer designed to expand when they receive an electrical signal from the eye.
In a study published in Advanced Functional Materials, the scientists behind the biomimetic contacts cited already-existing human-machine interfaces (HMIs)—which have improved the quality of life for users—as a partial inspiration for robotic lenses.
HMIs have been developed to use electrophysiological signals to control the motion of wheelchairs and diverse functions of exoskeletons. Those HMIs have not only enabled the disabled to restore their mobility and dexterity but also enhanced the capability of healthy people.
The contacts function even when your eyes are closed, because the human eye produces electrical signals 24/7, i.e. REM sleep.
In the study, the scientists placed an elastomer in between two electrodes, which activate with an electrical stimulus (provided by the human eye). The activated electrodes cause the elastomer to expand, resulting in zoomed vision. Another double blink de-activates the zoom and sets vision back to normal.