Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Telescopic contact lenses could give superhero vision

Researchers develop a contact lens that acts like a telescope when used with a special pair of glasses, offering a potential new solution for people with age-related macular degeneration.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
A front view of the switchable telescopic contact lens. Optics Express

Many superheroes come equipped with special seeing abilities, like X-ray vision or night vision. Superman even sports telescopic vision, the ability to see over long distances. Researchers are working on a contact lens that bestows telescopic vision, though it won't let you spy on faraway planets.

The lens experiment came about through DARPA-funded research into vision enhancement devices for soldiers. What the researchers developed could become a solution for people suffering from age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness for older adults. The goal is to improve vision with an unobtrusive device.

The contact lens can be switched between normal and telescopic vision. The researchers from the University of California San Diego, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and the Pacific Science & Engineering Group published their work under the title Switchable telescopic contact lens in the Optics Express journal.

The lens, which is just over a millimeter thick, is equipped with tiny mirrors that act as magnifiers. "The magnified optical path incorporates a telescopic arrangement of positive and negative annular concentric reflectors to achieve 2.8x magnification on the eye, while light passing through a central clear aperture provides unmagnified vision," the researchers say.

The lens doesn't work on its own. It needs to be paired with a modified set of 3D television glasses. A polarizing filter allows the switch between telescopic and regular vision. The researchers tested the experiment through computer modeling and by attaching a prototype lens to a optomechanical model eye.

The researchers aren't ready to pop this creation onto any real eyeballs just yet. There is still a lot of work to do with refining the technology and improving the image quality, but the work holds a lot of promise. "The ideal is really for magnifiers to become unnecessary," says co-author Eric Tremblay. Until we get there, however, contact lenses may provide a way to make AMD a little less debilitating."

Telescopic contact lens
The experimental contact lens on a model of an eye. Eric J. Tremblay/Igor Stamenov/R. Dirk Beer/Ashkan Arianpour/Joseph E. Ford