The Centre of Microsystems Technology (CMST), IMEC’s associated laboratory at Ghent University, recently announced that it has developed an innovative spherical curved LCD display that can be embedded in contact lenses. The researchers believe this to be the first step toward fully pixelated contact lens displays. It is believed to possess potential to be used in wide-spread applications in medical and cosmetic domains.

According to an official statement from the researchers, the current innovation is quite unlike LED-based contact lens displays, wherein they were limited to a few small pixels. Imec’s innovative LCD-based technology makes the entire display surface usable. Elaborating upon the expertise behind the innovation, the researchers share that by adapting the patterning process of the conductive layer, this technology allows applications with a broad range of pixel number and sizes, such as a one pixel, fully covered contact lens acting as adaptable sunglasses, or a highly pixelated contact lens display.

What currently exists is the first prototype, which contains a patterned dollar sign depicting the many cartoons that feature people or figures with dollars in their eyes. The prototype can only display rudimentary patterns akin to an electronic pocket calculator. Later though, researchers believe that there will be fully autonomous electronic contact lenses embedded within this display. These next-generation solutions could be used for medical purposes, for example, to control the light transmission toward the retina in case of a damaged iris, or for cosmetic purposes such as an iris with a tunable colour. In the future, the display could also function as a head-up display, superimposing an image onto the user’s normal view. However, there are still hurdles to overcome for broader consumer and civilian implementation.

Jelle De Smet, the main researcher on the project shares, “Normally, flexible displays using liquid crystal cells are not designed to be formed into a new shape, especially not a spherical one. Thus, the main challenge was to create a very thin, spherically curved substrate with active layers that could withstand the extreme molding processes. Moreover, since we had to use very thin polymer films, their influence on the smoothness of the display had to be studied in detail. By using new kinds of conductive polymers and integrating them into a smooth spherical cell, we were able to fabricate a new LCD-based contact lens display.”

What's interesting though is that the technology may be particularly interesting for certain applications. Smet suggested how it would be interesting to show images, say road directions, or even project text messages from one's smartphones straight to the eye. While in all likelihood it is too early to discuss the possibilities of this technology, it is clearly one to watch out for. 

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