Wink and Zoom In: Swiss Researchers Develop High-Tech Telescopic Contact Lenses

All eyes were on a team of researchers who unveiled their new high-tech contact lenses earlier this month (Feb. 2015) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) in San Jose, California.

Optics specialist Eric Tremblay and scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland had the chance to show-off a prototype of their telescopic contact lenses - an invention that will certainly offer plenty of hope for nearly 300 million people worldwide who are visually impaired.

Swiss Researchers Develop High-Tech Telescopic Contact Lenses.Swiss Researchers Develop High-Tech Telescopic Contact Lenses.

Sure, it sounds like something out of a Terminator or James Bond movie, but this is real.

That’s right they have invented contact lenses that have teeny-tiny telescopes in them. With the wink of an eye, one can easily zoom in and out as they please.

Each lens that goes over the eyes is 1.55 millimeter thick in size and in it contains small mirrors that move light around. The Swiss research team has also developed “smart glasses” that complement the contact lenses.

All the wearer has to do is wink with the right eye to turn on the small telescopes, and blink with the left eye to return to normal vision.

The telescopic contact lens with a quarter for scale. Photo provided by Eric Tremblay and Joe Ford/2015: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.The telescopic contact lens with a quarter for scale. Photo provided by Eric Tremblay and Joe Ford/2015: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.

Tremblay and his team first introduced the invention two years ago and since then have made plenty of unique advancements. Their new high-tech discovery magnifies objects in clear view 2.8 times. This means that those who suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) will be able to read better and recognize faces.

“We think these lenses hold a lot of promise for low vision and age-related macular degeneration,” says Tremblay.

“At this point this is still research, but we are hopeful it will eventually become a real option for people with AMD,” he adds.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s main research arm, has been fudning the research being carried out by Tremblay. DARPA also hopes that the lenses will work as bionic eyes for soldiers in combat in the near future.

At present, there are some glasses on the market to aid people with AMD, but they are cumbersome to use as they are big and clunky and are not user-friendly.

“It's very important and hard to strike a balance between function and the social costs of wearing any kind of bulky visual device,” says Tremblay.

“There is a strong need for something more integrated, and a contact lenses is an attractive direction,” he says.

Tremblay’s team also includes researchers from the University of California, San Diego, Paragon Vision Sciences, Innovega Inc., and the Pacific Sciences and Engineering Group.