The idea of information being presented directly to your eyes, be it by glasses, contacts, distant lasers, or brain implants, has existed for decades. But like so many sci-fi concepts, the engineering is slightly more difficult than the idea work. While we’ve seen lots of work in artificial eyes, head-mounted displays, and cortical implants, the on-eye display has remained elusive.
Progress is being made, though. Researchers at the University of Washington and Aalto University in Finland have successfully created a simple wireless contact lens display and tested it on a live eye — a proof of concept that may presage more sophisticated devices. People wonder what kind of display comes after the touchscreen; it may be something like this.
The display is, as far as cornea-mounted wireless displays go, pretty basic: there’s an antenna for harvesting wireless power, a circuit to manage this power, and a single transparent LED. Obviously you’re not going to display much information with one LED, but this device was created for evaluating health risks. It was tested on a rabbit’s eye and found to be safe, by their account.
What’s next? Obviously more resolution is necessary, but more resolution requires more power, and as it is, the wireless solution they implemented could only reliably power the device from 2cm away when it was installed on the rabbit.
The next generation of displays isn’t really something we can easily speculate on, but, cynical as it may sound, those with military applications are often the ones that get the green light. A contact lens display would definitely be useful in that situation, so you’d better believe that the guys at DARPA are paying attention to this particular line of research. But I wouldn’t count on this trickling down to consumer tech for many years, if it does at all.