Lenses that enable the wearer to switch between normal and magnified vision have been demonstrated at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Jose, California.
It’s hoped that these new sturdy lenses could help sufferers of macular degeneration, a debilitating condition that causes people to gradually lose their central vision. Macular degeneration is currently the leading cause of visual impairment in the UK and affects millions of people worldwide.
The new rigid contact lenses – which were developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne – cover the whites of the eyes, making them larger than standard lenses. Contained within the lens are tiny aluminium mirrors arranged within a central ring. When light streams through them, the mirrors bounce it around a number of times, causing objects to appear larger.
To toggle between normal views and the magnified image, users will need to wear the lenses with a pair of electronic glasses. A wink with one eye will switch the glasses to a polarised filter, and winking with the opposite eye will switch the setting back to normal.
A previous version of the lenses didn’t allow the user toggle the zoom; this early version has been built upon, with a new improved design that better enables oxygen to reach the eye.
Now the airflow around the lenses has improved, the team are continuing trials.
The smart contact lenses could potentially lead to users being able to keep tabs on medical problems. Scientists at the University of California are currently working on lenses with minute pressure sensors that will enable them to track glaucoma.
Current treatment options for macular degeneration are simply surgery or wearing visual aids that resemble opera glasses (these are known as bioptic telescopes).
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