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If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
For some people, having the ability to zoom your vision would be at the top of the list. Luckily for them, researchers have recently published the latest breakthrough to making this a reality: a contact lens that lets the wearer magnify their vision by almost three times.
“I think the most compelling use for this lens is macular degeneration, but in the future it’s also possible that it could be used for enhanced acuity for people with good vision,” study researcher Eric Tremblay, if the University of California, San Diego, told Business Insider in an email.
Tremblay and his co-researchers published the specs for the lens in the journal Optics Express on June 27.
As Tremblay notes, the technology is currently being developed by people whose vision is impacted by eye diseases like macular degeneration, which damages the center of the retina, where detailed vision takes place.
When this area is damaged it makes deciphering fine details, like small writing, difficult. Age-related macular degeration causes central vision loss in more than 2 million people over 55 in the United States alone.
The contact lens works with the outer regions of the retina, making the vision in these areas sharper while circumventing the damaged center of the retina, where the sharpest vision occurs.
The contact has two distinct regions — one for normal viewing and an outer edge for zoomed viewing. It uses aluminium mirrors that bounce the light around inside the contact lens to magnify it.
They tested the contact lens using a mechanical eye they built — a water-filled capsule with glass lenses that are similar to the lenses in the human eye.
Though it contains so much tech, it is just 1.17 millimeters thick, meaning it’s comfortable enough to wear. It’s also just as good as implantable systems that provide the same amount of magnification but require surgery to implant.
The user turns on the zoom by activating a pair of polarising 3D TV glasses, which send polarised light into the eye. The polarised light is picked up differently by different parts of the contacts — specifically, it is picked up by the outer edges of the contacts and sent through the mirrors.
By bouncing off the mirrors, the light (and the image it is carrying) is magnified and sent to the outer edges of the retina, which are still undamaged in macular degeneration.
There’s still some work to do, though. As you can see in the image above, the image loses brightness and clarity as it’s bumped around the mirrors in the lens. It does zoom into the image well, though.
The contact lens is currently made using old-contact-lens tech, a gas-impermeable polymer called PMMA which can only be used for about 30 minutes because it stops oxygen from getting to the eye. The researchers are working with Alex Groisman from the University of California, San Diego, to add air channels into the lens to make it more comfortable.
“At the moment we’re working on making the contacts safe and comfortable to wear with good image quality. Those are challenging things to get right, but so far results have been encouraging,” Tremblay said. They are also working to make the contacts cheaper and the manufacturing process more efficient.
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