Augmented reality generated in the form of a contact lens, with embedded pixels, would have many advantages over a glasses-based design. Many companies are currently working on ways to build curved LCDs, or even flexible LCDs, that could be embedded into a contact. Unless you want a full-scale bionic vision implant which sends the data to the lens, a stand-alone LCD is not going to cut it. A group of researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea are now working on a solution to this this problem — the contact lens computer.
The Ulsan researchers had previously worked in an area seemingly unrelated to display technology. Their claim to fame was a graphene-based “nanoplatelet” material that was stable and conductive enough to act as a fuel cell cathode. These nanoplatelets could be separated into individual sheets by a process called ball milling. On larger scales, ball milling is typically used to uniformly grind powders with a small agitated ball bouncing around inside a closed vessel. Inside a mini ball mill, graphene can be mixed with various halogens, like chlorine or bromine, which then creep in between the graphene sheets to make a robust material.
The researchers were able to build miniature inorganic LEDs by connecting the graphene sheets together with silver nanowires into a hybrid structure. The flexible silver nanowires enabled the hybrid strucuture to maintain its high conductivity even when bent. The most important factor for using the hybrid graphene in a contact lens-based computer is its high transparency. Other transparent materials like indium tine oxide (ITO) become much less conductive when bent. When the hybrid LEDs were embedded into a regular soft contact and tested in a rabbit no ill effects were observed.
At this point the contact developed by the researchers is really just a single pixel display, but the goal of the effort is to build a device that can do everything that something like Google Glass can do. There are many forms a contact computer might take. Embedding all that hardware inside a transparent device is currently impossible. One shortcut might be to use a tether for power and communications, although that probably wouldn’t be too comfortable. Wireless options have already been developed, at least in crude form, and may ultimately be the way to go. Once the device is powered and connected, we might imagine some of the rudimentary essentials such a device might do. At a minimum, one task might be to maintain the display settings to locally to match the changing optics of the eye as they search for some stability in a detached and partially artificial world.
Via Kalani Kirk Hausman