Eric Tremblay of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) revealed a prototype of his telescopic contact lenses at the 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in San Jose, California. The contact lenses, which are paired with a set of wink-controlled glasses, have been in the works since 2013.
The contact lenses are the size of a quarter, and they can magnify 2.8 times. To do this, they have an incredibly thin reflective telescope and tiny mirrors to reflect light. A press release from the EPFL says “it’s like looking through low magnification binoculars.”
In order to switch between telescopic and normal views, Tremblay and his team created a pair of glasses that control the contacts with the power of a wink. Switching between a normal view and the magnified view is as easy as winking you right or left eye. The winking allows the glasses to either block or let in the light reflected between the contacts and the glasses.
Tremblay’s telescopic contacts could help the 285 million people in the world that are visually impaired, especially adults over the age of 50 that have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). “We think these lenses hold a lot of promise for low vision and [AMD],” Tremblay said. The researcher worked closely with Joe Ford at the University of California, San Diego on the project, as well as others at Paragon Vision Sciences, Innovega, Pacific Sciences and Engineering, and Rockwell Collins.
These lenses have not been tested on humans yet, though the scientists that have been working on them say they can be worn for long periods of time thanks to tiny airflow channels. They will remain in development for more time, and it is unknown when they will be available for sale.