Augmented reality contact lens unveiled by Imec and Ghent University

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The Centre of Microsystems Technology (CMST), Imec’s associated laboratory at Ghent University (Belgium), has developed an innovative spherical curved LCD display, which can be embedded in contact lenses.

The technology is the first step toward fully pixelated contact lens displays and has potential wide-spread applications in medical and cosmetic domains.

Unlike LED-based contact lens displays, which are limited to a few small pixels, Imec’s LCD-based technology permits the use of the entire display surface. By adapting the patterning process of the conductive layer, this technology enables 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.

The first prototype presented contains a patterned dollar sign. It can only display rudimentary patterns, similar to an electronic pocket calculator.

In the future, the researchers envision fully autonomous electronic contact lenses embedded with this display. These next-generation solutions could be used for medical purposes, for example to control the light transmission toward the retina for patients with 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.

‘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 moulding processes,’ said Jelle De Smet, the main researcher on the project. ‘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.’

Prof Herbert De Smet, who is supervising CMST’s display group, commented: ‘Now that we have established the basic technology, we can start working towards real applications, possibly available in only a few years’ time.’

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