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 How Possible is it to Put a Camera in a Contact Lens?

People have been striving for years to put computer hardware in contact lenses. Progress was made in 2009 when a group at the University of Washington, Seattle, successfully tested a prototype that embeds an integrated circuit, LED, radio receiver, and antenna, into a contact lens that could absorb power from an external battery to light the LED through RF. 

Two of the researchers joined Google X labs to build a prototype for a smart contact lens that detects glucose, a project that was announced officially in January 2014 by the company. Thus, the integration of other tiny hardware – like that of a tiny camera - is not so discouraged.

Hardware, that the Contacts Would be Made of

A contact lens that captures images should integrate small, thin chips, antennas, wires, and other miniature devices, either glued on top or embedded in the contact lens material. According to Google’s patent, each would include at least one control circuit, a camera, and a sensor, although several components can be incorporated later. Internal components can be attached using built-in wire, wirelessly, or both.

The other integrated sensors in the patent are:

  • micro-mechanical switches
  • pressure sensors
  • photodiodes (which detects light)
  • temperature sensors
  • electrical field sensors
  • conductivity sensors

Another critical part of the circuit control is power. Lenses should have a way to receive/generate, store, and distribute electricity to internal hardware without being directly connected to an external power source. (We can all agree that power cords attached to contact lenses would not be viable.) Energy can be transported from the outside through RF (radio frequency) waves, or sensors could even generate energy themselves and transfer it to the power source.

What Camera Contacts Could Do

Apparently, the function of contacts with built-in cameras is to capture images in the user's view. However, contacts with built-in components could do even more. When the contacts use a display, the user would see extended peripheral views, highlighted objects, magnified visual images, or even text. Other details overlayed on reality - in essence, an augmented reality.

Possible Challenges

Both image capture and facial recognition problems can cause privacy issues. Google Glass wearers have already had challenges with strangers who are not too eager to watch or film all their movements. Google has published a list of recommendations for glass users, such as asking permission before filming or taking pictures with people, stopping them in any situation where a phone would not be allowed, and otherwise not making use of the devices rudely.

Final Thoughts

Google Glass has already been used by healthcare professionals and other emergency workers to quickly access life-saving information so that we can imagine similar applications for this much less attractive technology. The ability to communicate with nearby devices, display information, and blink commands could make this a great way to receive and send information while doing other things.

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