New tech that paves the way for electronic contact lenses

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By David Russell

Scientists at the University of South Australia have developed a technology that will enable electricity to be conducted on a contact lens.

The futuristic breakthrough from the Future Industries Institute has proved that a thin polymer coating that conducts electricity can be applied to contact lenses. That means personal, invisible computer technology that connects to other devices is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Associate Professor Drew Evans, who lead the research, told Inside South Australia the technology had the potential to be used to monitor the wearer’s health.

“These conductive polymers… can be made to respond to changes in their local environment,” he said. “Where we see this having first application is to look at the chemistry in people’s tears… which correlates to changes in their body chemistry.

“So an example is that a change in your blood glucose level will result in a change in your tears and then the polymer would start to go dark, giving the wearer immediate feedback so they know they need to eat some jelly beans.”

Associate Professor Evans’ team works to take technology out of the research space and put it into commercial products with industry. Their contact lens breakthrough stemmed from an unlikely starting point; the polymer coatings were first used by UniSA to create a whisper-thin reflective surface that lead to the development of the world’s first fully plastic car mirror. The team took that technology and research into conducting polymers and partnered with a UK contact lens specialist to produce the prototypes of the new lens.

While the initial applications of the polymer will utilise its inherrant responsiveness, Associate Professor Evans believes that further down the line electrical circuits could be built onto the contact lenses.

“So multi-focal contact lenses… that can automatically sense where the eye is looking and change their shape… through to being able to use it as a head-up display like Iron Man or the Terminator.

“Research has shown that these conductive polymers are biocompatible, so that means that when you put it in and around the body it’s not going to get rejected and that’s a big step forward.”

The results of the research can be found in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

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