January 21, 2011

2 Min Read
Keeping an Eye on Microelectronics-Based Contacts

There seems to be a significant population of people that get quite squeamish when they see someone put in contacts or involved in any eye-touching scenario. Those people better brace themselves for the future: Innovative eye technology that combines biocompatible materials with microelectronics is within sight.

A recent article in New Scientist highlights several different emerging technologies that incorporate microelectronics into contact lenses. But these devices aren't designed for vision correction. Rather, scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, for example, built on their previous development of an LED-equipped contact lens to create a glucose monitor-on-a-lens device for diabetics. Using tiny electrodes and a computer chip, the lens can monitor glucose levels in tears to avoid painful finger thumb pricks. Data collected could be transmitted wirelessly.

Likewise, researchers at the Swiss company Sensimed recently introduced the first 'smart contact lens' to the market, which relies on highly sensitive platinum strain gauges embedded in the lens to improve glaucoma treatment, according to the article. Data is also recorded and transmitted wirelessly with this device. The novel device is designed to be worn for 24 hours once or twice a year to help determine medication schedules based on recorded peaks in eye pressure.

These developments are fascinating, and open up a whole new world of opportunity. But along with the challenge of winning over the squeamish, these devices face new design and development challenges. Obviously, clarity of materials is paramount when you're talking about lenses. And so is compatibility of the materials with the eye, of course. But it's the incorporation of microelectronics into lenses that is truly intriguing to me. Tricky, I imagine, but exciting.

What do you think, readers? Are you excited about this technology, or one of the aforementioned squeamish people? What kinds of engineering challenges could these devices pose? Is this a new trend and should we all brace ourselves for any imaginable device-on-a-lens configuration? Let me know in the comments section below.

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