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Scientists create contact lens that zooms in with the blink of an eye

Electrical energy generated by the eyeball is used to control its focal length

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Scientists at the University of California San Diego have created a contact lens which can zoom in when the wearer blinks twice.

The lens is powered by electrooculographic (EOG) signals, which are small currents of electricity which pass between the front and back of the eye when it is moved, or when a person blinks. The lens is controlled by five electrodes surrounding the eye and acting like muscles.

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When the person blinks twice, the electric signal produced by this movement tells the electrodes to act in such a way that the lens becomes more convex, which causes the person's vision to zoom in.

Although this sounds like a fun feature for a cyborg human, capable of zooming in at will, the scientists hope their discovery will lead to prosthetic eyes or wearable cameras which can be controlled using the eyes - and their electrooculographic signals - alone, without the need for other robotics.

Speaking to New Scientist, lead researcher Shengqiang Cai said: "Even if your eye cannot see anything, many people can still move their eye ball and generate this electrooculargraphic signal."

Photos of zoomable contact lens prototype The prototype is controlled with electric signals send through leads attached to a persons faceAdvanced Functional Materials Journal

The prototype lens cannot yet be warm by a patient, but it can be successfully controlled when fed electrical signals from a person's eye movements, zooming in when they blink twice.

Previously developed 'soft robotics' like this lens are either controlled manually or by a pre-programed control system, but with this breakthrough the team of scientists believe patients can control the eye, or a camera, with the movements of their eyeball itself, making the process feel far more natural.

Cai's team explained in their research paper on the technology: "The motion and deformation of the soft lens are achieved by the actuation of different areas of dielectric elastomer films, mimicking the working mechanisms of the eyes of humans and most mammals. The system developed in the current study has the potential to be used in visual prostheses, adjustable glasses, and remotely operated robotics in the future."


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