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Seeing The Future, Literally

Science Not Fiction
By Eric Wolff
Nov 12, 2008 1:36 AMNov 5, 2019 12:57 AM


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Vision, for the SciFi robot, is a much richer affair than it is for us ordinary mortals. Even the eyes of a trash compactor like Wall-E can home in on an object, zoom in or out as needed, apply light filters, and maintain a heads up display showing velocity or coordinates, as needed. It's so common in TV and movies that when a movie starts with a view through cross hairs, a light filter, and a rapid zoom on something or someone, it's an instant signifier that we, the audience, are seeing the world from a robot's point of view. But not for long,perhaps. A couple of University of Washington researchers are ready to take the cool-vision mantle back from the robots. In essence, what Dr. Babak Parviz has accomplished is to put an integrated circuit into a contact lens. Using a process called self-assembly, Parviz arranges nanometer-thick metal onto the organic polymer that makes up the contact lens, and then connects them to tiny light emitting diodes. The LEDs will be able to paint information on top of whatever scene you are looking at. They haven't gotten to the point of lighting up the diodes, but they have begun testing them on animals. So far, rabbits can withstand wearing the lenses for 20 minutes with no ill effects. But once the microchip is in place, Parviz thinks it will be a short hop, technologically speaking, to getting those robot features built into the lens. Perhaps most of us don't need targeting computers, but the zoom feature could sure be handy when I have to watch baseball from the nosebleed section, and I have to figure that recording video straight from the contact lens, Finder style, can't be far behind.

Most of the gadgetry on the lens will be arranged into a ring that surrounds the transparent part of the eye. As contact lens wearers know, the sclera has no nerves in it, which makes it a great spot for putting wireless communications or other features for this lens. Actually, they're hoping to use that space for solar panels.

The one thing these contact lenses can't do? Fix your eyesight. I imagine that wll be along soon.

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