Looming on the horizon are computer-chipped contact lenses that can record, store, and display images in front of the wearer’s eyeball. The product is being pushed as a way to capture and preserve life’s precious moments with the blink of an eye.
More cynical critics envision problems with the new tech.
Sony is the latest contender among a growing pack of competitive global corporations rushing to claim first place in the race to outfit consumers with a device capable of instant audio-video (AV) surveillance. The company was awarded a patent for its singular video recording contact lens.
With a few deliberate blinks, Sony’s digital contact lens will begin recording what the wearer sees. It will be able to transmit them to another wearer in realtime and store the image data for future playback. The lens superimposes the images it generates on your normal field of vision.
Sony’s patent indicates that the new lens will have the following capabilities:
- Zoom in and out readily
- Record video and data
- Take and store photographs
- An organic, electro-luminescent display screen can be controlled by blinking
- The lens can also playback recorded material in-lens
Almost everyone is comparing this innovation to a similar device portrayed in the Mission Impossible movie starring Tom Cruise.
Google led the race to computer-enabled smart vision wear with its Glass smart glasses (an optical head-mounted display shaped like a pair of eyeglasses) which prototyped in 2013 and rolled out for commercial sale in May 2014. After ironing out the wrinkles in its original product, Google launched its new and improved Glass Enterprise Edition 2 which promised a sporty new look, a faster processor, and a brighter display.
The screens on all Glass models display 640 X 480 pixels. The battery mounted on the device is positioned behind the wearer’s ear and has a two-hour capacity before needing a recharge.
Glass project lead Jay Kothari said Glass is designed to put everything the worker needs to perform a task (parts, tools, and directions) in one place, leaving the hands free to work. Glass claims to give workplace personnel three “superpowers” which are:
- Help remind employees of standard operating procedures, meaning the proper way to assemble a product or package it up for shipment.
- Provide an “I-see-what-you-see” scenario where a supervisor or an expert can observe an employee’s work and give direction or advice.
- Help document inspection use cases by recording video and audio notes while the wearer checks out a machine or property.
Several Big Tech companies are looking beyond computerized eyeglasses and contact lenses that can only record and playback audio and video. Their goal is a future contact lens equipped with an internet-linked computer monitor that would do everything a smartphone or other portable networked computer device can do – all hands-free and right in front of your very eye.
To that end, a research team at the University of Washington is making progress in creating a real bionic eye. Its screen is as small as the eye’s iris and it connects wirelessly to a pocket-sized portable computer. Developer Babak Parvis said that the device is very complicated to make because it has to engineer both high-performance circuitry and small communications radios onto the contact lenses.
After boiling lead-free solder to 250F, a small polymer wafer that has a tiny circuit board etched onto one side of it is dipped into the metallic liquid to create the circuitry. Then, everything is coated in a bi-compatible polymer and molded into the curved shape of a contact lens.
Don’t get too excited just yet. This high-tech innovation is still in the initial development stages. The first prototype lens computer can store a mere 1 pixel of digital imagery information. (A computer monitor with a 640 x 480 pixel display is considered to have low-resolution. Medium resolution is 800 x 600, and high-resolution is 1024 x 768 or more pixels in size.)
But that single pixel is wirelessly powered, proving that the research team’s functional design shows promise and could be increased in future development models. A test showed how an RF (radio frequency) transmitter successfully transmitted power and data to a small silicon chip on a contact lens.
The lens picked up the signal and lit up the lone pixel with its internal circuitry.
Audio-video eyeglasses and contact lenses are being marketed as a huge convenience by the Big Tech companies developing them: You’re walking around and want to check out a store you see up ahead so you cue your smart contact lens to query the internet and display advertising information about the locale.
But this type of technology is ultra-intrusive and bound to become more so. There will be no more privacy, even in someone else’s home. Would you like to visit a public restroom knowing that strangers could be recording your every move?
Advertising would come straight to our faces, as one tech writer observed – and what about distracting pedestrians and drivers in traffic?
There are also legitimate health concerns about placing electronics directly over the eyeball. An equipment failure could spell blindness.
Can you see yourself wearing a smart contact lens?