Have you ever wanted to be able to zoom into far off distances with the naked eye? Imagine being able to do so with a mere wink. Researchers in Switzerland are working on a contact lens that could do exactly that! The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology showcased the new lenses at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in California.
Treating Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Besides seeing off into the horizon, these lenses have their practical uses. Although they are still in the prototype stage, they could be incredibly useful for those with visual impairment, an affliction that affects millions of people worldwide. In particular, they might one day be able to help people with a condition called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of visual impairment in adults over the age of 50. The disease is a progressive one that causes people to gradually lose their vision due to cell damage and decay in the retina. It causes the center of the vision field to become blurred.
Perfecting the Lens
A new prototype of the technology will rely on contact lenses containing tiny aluminum telescopes that can reach up to 3x magnification. The telescopes within the lenses were actually first developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and intended as incredibly thin cameras for aerial drones. Instead, they were reimagined as an aid for people with age-related macular degeneration, which work by providing the still-working parts of the retina a clearer chance to still recognize details in their field of vision. The telescopic contact lens system is designed to be much less intrusive than bioptics, which are another type of zooming vision enhancement lens.
How Do Telescopic Lenses Work?
The lenses work alongside wink-controlled glasses, which look exactly like normal eyewear except for the fact that they have a tiny light source detector that is able to recognize winks and ignores even blinks of the wearer’s eyes. By allowing light to bounce around the mirrors embedded within the walls of 1.5 mm thick lens, the contacts allow users to view a zoomed in image. These mirrors enlarge the perceived size of an object. In order for the image to be zoomed out, the user winks their right eye and by doing so, interrupts the light being reflected from the contacts to their glasses. This triggers the polarized filter in the glasses, which in turn guides light toward the telescopic part of the lens. To return to regular vision, the user would wink their left eye.
Earlier models of the lenses could only be worn for a short period of time due to the lack of oxygen reaching the surface of the eye. Since the first telescopic prototype in 2013, the developers have been fine-tuning the lens material so it can be worn comfortably over longer periods. Scientists have made progress since then, so that the lenses may be worn for with the addition of tiny channels that have increased airflow around the eye.
The Future of Telescopic Lenses
Eric Trembley, one of the collaborators working on the glasses believes that these lenses are a very promising option for those with age-related macular degeneration.
He has been quoted in Medical News Today, stating that,
“It’s very important and hard to strike a balance between function and the social costs of wearing any kind of bulky visual device. There is a strong need for something more integrated, and a contact lens is an attractive direction. At this point this is still research, but we are hopeful it will eventually become a real option for people with AMD.”
So although telescopic lenses are still outside our grasp, that’s no reason to not consider regular lenses in the meantime! Book an appointment online today!