The future is nigh. Rather, it seems the future is now. Scientists and engineers have been developing robotic technology for decades, and now we are finally beginning to see the amazing results.
Many factories are almost entirely automated now, cars are able to drive themselves, and surgeries can be performed by robots.
We have even seen bionic parts being implanted in humans to replace lost or damaged limbs. And now a set of robotic contact lenses may provide super sight. The Six Million Dollar Man may have just gone from Eighties television show to real life.
According to a report by The Independent, scientists have recently been able to create robot contact lenses which mimic the electrical signals in the human eye.
Soft robotics, what these lenses are considered, normally need to be pre-programmed or controlled manually. However, these lenses can be controlled with eye movement.
Soft robotics is the subfile of robotics in which highly compliant materials are used in constructing moving parts which are able to move much like living organisms, enabling robots to adapt to their surrounding environment.
In order to control the device, these scientists, from the University of California in San Diego, have been able to harness the human eye’s natural electrical charge which is active even when the eye is closed.
They have been able to measure the electrical potential of the eye, also known as the electro-oculographic signal. The robotic lens responds to that signal.
Shengqiang Cai, a lead researcher from the university, reported to New Scientist that even if the eye is unable to see, as in a blind individual, people are still capable of moving the eyeball and the electro-ocular signal is still present.
This lens is made from polymers which are able to expand when electrical signals are present. It has five electrodes surrounding the eye which act like muscles to control the lens.
According to the research published by Advanced Functional Materials, the lens can be switched between “near vision mode” and “distance vision mode” by its user blinking twice, triggering a change in focal length. Within each vision mode, the lens is able to move following the eye’s direction.
In the paper titled, A Biomimetic Soft Lens Controlled by Electrooculographic Signal, the researchers wrote – “The four moving directions of the eyes could control the planar movements of the tunable lens and double blink of the eyes could trigger the focal length change of the lens.”
Scientists developed this study in the hopes that it could one day help develop a prosthetic eye as well as a camera that could be controlled by the human eye.
This robotic contact lens zooms in with the blink of an eye 👁️ pic.twitter.com/0jM3lc27u9
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 1, 2019
Implications of This Technology
While it may seem like an episode of Black Mirror and might even conjure some theories about how this technology could be used for surveillance, it might also provide hope for people struggling with poor eyesight which have not been able to be corrected by conventional prescription glasses or surgery.
Bionic prosthetics, while still a fairly new field with much research and development ongoing, shows much promise in helping those with missing or non functioning body parts.
This robotic lens is not the first electrical device to help correct vision. The Arugs II was developed by a company called Second Sight over the last decade and is now approved by medicare in some states. It is a digital device implanted in the eye and programmed and controlled by an external apparatus.