Smart contact lenses are coming. They are the part-scary, part-exciting future tech that will bring augmented reality to the fore.
Imagine always having a way of overlaying images onto the real world and capture everything as you see it. Follow glowing blue roads when navigating as light is overlaid on reality, share a walk through a beautiful garden with a loved one over video, or read a restaurant's menu from across the road just by looking at the place. All this could be possible with smart contact lenses.
At the moment plenty of companies are working on the technology to make this a reality. Google, Samsung and Sony are investing in the tech, for example. But where are we along that road to integration with humans?
We've rounded up all the advances so far in smart contact lens tech so you know what's coming. This will be kept updated as new advances happen.
Smart contact lenses: Google
The Google X team has been working on contact lenses, with Swiss drug maker Novartis, that will be able to detect blood glucose levels from your tears. This lens is medically focused, specifically for diabetics initially. There is another that will help focus vision.
The glucose lens will use miniaturised chips, sensors and hair-thin antenna to take measurements and transmit that data. Google is even working on LED lights that will notify a wearer of low blood sugar right in their field of view.
While these will be great for diabetics, who often have to prick themselves for blood to monitor glucose, the applications could go further. Anybody could use these lenses to monitor blood sugar as a way of maintaining healthy energy levels and even in dieting.
The other lens will work like a camera's autofocus to help the wearer focus where that is an issue.
This project was announced in January 2014 at which point it had been underway for 18 months. Here's hoping the lenses will become a reality soon.
Smart contact lenses: Samsung
Samsung is working on its own contact lenses, but these are focused on offering an augmented reality view of the world. A patent shows off what Samsung hopes to create in the future.
By incorporating cameras, motion sensors and transmitters these will be able to overlay information on the physical world. The lenses would work with a connected phone allowing users to take photos and overlay information onto the real world, like a menu outside a restaurant for example.
Smart contact lenses: Sony
Sony has also filed a patent for its own smart contact lens system. Similar to Samsung the plan here is to incorporate cameras in order to allow for image and video capture.
Sony talks less about augmented reality and focuses on the physical workings of the device. It points out that conscious blinking, which is held longer than normal, will be used to take photos or capture video.
These lenses will be powered wirelessly but feature hardware to not only capture but also store the footage locally. We like the idea of going for a run and taking photos without needing to bring a phone along.
Smart contact lenses: Ocumetrics Bionic Lens
The Ocumetrics Bionic Lens was created by Dr Garth Webb to enhance the vision of those that need it. Not only can these deliver 20/20 vision but could actually enhance that by up to three times – yup, zoom vision.
These lenses would need to be surgically inserted in an 8-minute operation. The result would be immediate vision correction and the wearer would never get cataracts as the lenses would never wear away. Trials need to be carried out first but the tech could be ready to go in just a few years.
Smart contact lenses: LED contact lens
The big brains over at the University of Washington have managed to use a 3D quantum dot LED printer to create a contact lens with a display. While this is greater advancement than many, it's still a very basic one-pixel display right now.
Thanks to the use of quantum dots, similar to those found in Samsung TVs, light can be achieved in very thin layers. This is done while drawing power wirelessly using an embedded antenna.
While this has been made it's still very expensive and in a super simple state. But it's a step in the right direction and that's very exciting indeed.