A Simple Wink Makes These Contact Lenses Operate Like a Magnifying Glass

Objects almost triple in size with specially designed telescopic lenses.
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Objects almost triple in size with specially designed telescopic lenses.

For the 285 million people worldwide who suffer from some sort of vision impairment, many have learned that once their vision hits a certain low, contacts and glasses can only do so much. Just ask my mother. She wears two completely different contact prescriptions in each eye, one for reading and one for distance. And somehow, she’s still always squinting.

But now, much like hitting the zoom in command on computer screens, telescopic contact lenses offer lens wearers the option to switch between an enhanced field of view and their regular prescription.

They work similar to binoculars, although the results are less extreme. A wink magnifies an object by 2.8 times its size, Science Daily reported. But don’t worry — the magnification is reversible by way of a wink in the opposite eye. Users will have to wear accompanying glasses that recognize winks verses blinks for the telescopic lenses to work. The electronic glasses use light detection to recognize a wink in the right eye for magnification and one in the left to normalize.

Funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the first lenses debuted in 2013, but researchers have since been working to make the lenses more comfortable for continual wear and more permeable to allow oxygen to flow around the cornea. They’re more rigid than soft contacts and cover the sclera, or whites of the eyes.

While this lens may not be necessary for those with minor prescriptions, the research team is hopeful they will be especially useful for those suffering from age-related macular degeneration. The leading cause of blindness of adults in developed countries, it often results in blurry central vision.

So if subtitles on foreign film are perpetually fuzzy or hazy street signs and stoplights make driving a nightmare, a telescopic contact and glasses combo could prove useful. You may, however, have to forgo flirtatious winks. 

Top photo credit: Eric Tremblay and Joe Ford. Courtesy of EPFL.