In the series "A Modest Proposal," my colleagues and I will propose inventions and projects that I think are eminently doable and would love made real.
I've written before about how a virtue and vice of iPhones and other mobile devices is that they use the same surface for inputting and outputting data. This means when it comes to writing, the keyboard that pops up to input data competes with the visual real estate needed for to output data.
One solution I proposed involved virtual keyboards, freeing up the mobile device to act only as a display. Now another solution has appeared — contact lenses that help enhance normal vision with virtual reality and augmented reality, freeing up mobile devices to act only as keyboards and mice. For those who do not want to rely on contact lenses, future versions could involve lenses directly implanted within the eye.
Researchers at Innovega funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation have developed contact lenses that work in conjunction with lightweight eyewear to display megapixel 3D panoramic images. Normally, the human eye is limited in its ability to focus on objects placed very near it, but the contact lenses contain optics that focus images displayed on the eyewear onto the light-sensing retina in the back of the eye, allowing the wearer to see them properly, effectively generating displays with a screen size equivalent to a 240-inch television, viewed at a distance of 10 feet. This system does not appear to interfere with normal vision, because the eyewear seems only to display polarized light images and the lenses seem to only work with polarized light.
The lenses from Innovega do not work as displays without the eyewear — there's no chance that your vision could be hijacked with just the lenses alone, as some seem to fear. Scientists at the University of Washington have conducted research into contact lenses that have displays incorporated within them, but these only have a few pixels at most, as compared to the megapixel vistas offered by Innovega, and there are all kinds of issues with batteries, heating and perhaps toxicity one would have with contact lenses that have displays within them.
Now I myself don't wear contact lenses, and I and others would balk at having to use them. Still, 100 million people already do, including 20 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds. There's a large market this could reach.
Moreover, Innovega's patents also cover lenses implanted within the eye. This might help, say, people with macular degeneration, or special forces soldiers who can't worry about losing a contact lens behind enemy lines. Still, with the modern popularity of laser eye surgery, implanting a lens might not be all that much of a hassle even for regular people. Heck, it might be something I'd want to try if this system ever becomes Google-like in popularity.
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