How Close Are We to Getting Google Glass in a Contact Lens?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 6 2013 3:25 PM

How Close Are We to Getting Google Glass in a Contact Lens?  

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Scientists are developing electronic contact lenses to spare geeks from Google Glass taunting.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Are you sufficiently creeped out by Google Glass? Does the possibility of face recognition, covert surveillance, or on-the-go pornography make you want to move to the middle of the woods? Well hold on to your butts, because scientists are making strides toward electronic contact lenses.

The good news—or bad news, depending on your perspective—is that such technology is still a long way off. We’re still not sure whether Google Glass is a glimpse into the future or a geeky gimmick. And until more of these things are out in the world, there’s really no way to know what sorts of problems they will raise.

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However, science doesn’t always wait for consumer demand. In South Korea, a team of scientists has been building the foundation of technology out of which spy contact lenses may one day evolve. The problem: How does one create an electrode that is both transparent and flexible?

The question of transparency isn’t so difficult. See-through electrodes are already built into the world around us, in flat-screen televisions, solar cells, and touch screens. They are currently made from indium tin oxide, but this material is prone to cracking and isn’t really something you’d want to put in your eye. To come at the problem from another angle, the scientists combined graphene with silver nanowires to create a hybrid material with high electrical and optical performance, as well as flexibility.  

OK, that doesn’t really sound like something I’d want in my eye, either, but the scientists have confirmed that the prototype is safe by testing it on a rabbit. After five hours, the likely very confused creature showed no signs of bloodshot, nor did it try to claw its eye out. (Admittedly, the rabbit seems to have fared better than when I wear my normal contacts.)

“We believe the hybridization between two-dimensional and one-dimensional nanomaterials presents a promising strategy toward flexible, wearable electronics and implantable biosensor devices, and indicate the substantial promise of future electronics,” lead researcher Jang-Ung Park said in a press release.

Should you be losing sleep at night worrying about Mission Impossible–style government surveillance? Not quite yet, but you can’t deny we’re getting closer. Until then, prepare to read about futuristic eye computers every few months, just like the Harry Potter invisibility cloak.  

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.

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