US military developing multi-focus augmented reality contact lenses
- By Sebastian Anthony on April 13, 2012 at 8:28 am
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Proving that biological limitations are only a problem for other people, the US Department of Defense and Innovega have begun work on a system, called iOptik, that gives humans the ability to focus on the near foreground and distant background at the same time.
The plan is that soldiers will be able to use these contact lenses to focus on a head-up display (HUD) projected on a pair of spectacles, while retaining wide-angle vision of the background. Current systems require the user to divert all of their attention to the HUD, thus reducing their field of view immensely — which is obviously a bit dangerous if you’re in the middle of a fire fight.
To do this, Innovega has developed a contact lens that has two different focusing lenses. One lens focuses foreground light into the middle of your pupil, while the other lens focuses the background onto the edge of your pupil. This way, two focused images arrive at your retina — and presumably, if the DoD is pushing ahead, your brain has no problem processing these two images. There’s a video embedded below that demonstrates this dual-focus functionality, and then another video of the CTO chatting at CES 2012.
The other half of the iOptik system is a HUD, which seems to be projected onto a pair of glasses using some kind of pico projector. There isn’t much information available about this portion of the project, though. It’s also worth noting that the contact lens, as far as I can tell, isn’t actually very novel. Bifocal contact lenses — the analog of bifocal eyeglasses — have existed for a while, and they do roughly the same thing.
Beyond military applications, Innovega says that it hopes to make iOptik available to consumers in 2014. Just last week Google confirmed the existence of its augmented reality Google Glasses — and for all we know, something very similar to this contact lens is being used. Without the ability to near- and far-focus at the same time, HUDs will be incredibly dangerous in an urban setting — just imagine trying to cross the road or ride your bike while everything more than an inch away from you is a big blur.
Innovega also points out on its website that, if you use two contact lenses, you could create a huge, virtual 3D display right in front of your eyes.