New Contact Lenses Have Zoom Feature — But It’s Not For Bird Watching

Wink the right eye to zoom-in; the left eye to zoom-out. With new telescopic contact lenses, it’s just that easy. Although the new lenses sound like something James Bond might want to wear, they’re actually a powerful solution for millions of people suffering from vision impairment.

According to New Scientist, the prototype lenses work in tandem with a pair of glasses capable of detecting users’ winks, but not blinks. Inside the contact lenses are layers of mirrors that function as a tiny telescope. When a user winks the right eye, the glasses switch to a polarized filter that directs light to the telescope, instantly creating a zoom effect. When the user winks the left eye, the glasses switch back.

Lead designer Dr. Eric Tremblay explained further.

“It is instant. You wink and the image changes. It rests on the white part of your eye and is quite large and quite thick.”

NBC News reports the zoom effect is 2.8 times magnification.

The Telegraph explains the contact lenses are an especially powerful tool for people suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease popularized by Dame Judi Dench.

The actress, who played M in recent James Bond films, reportedly said that the disease is making it harder for her to read scripts. She’s joined by about 11 million Americans who suffer from some form of AMD, including two million who suffer from an advanced form.

The contact lenses are a big advance on the current solution for sale — glasses with mounted mini-telescopes. Although these glasses get the job done, they were bulky and made socially awkward. In addition, they don’t adjust to the user’s head movement, so they have to be positioned correctly during use.

As for the contact lenses, the downside is obvious — they’re contact lenses. Many patients, especially people with some form of eye disease, will have a difficult time putting on the lenses, which are bigger than common contacts.

Clara Eaglen, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, still praised the development as “exciting.”

“The more sight someone has, the more they are able to live safe, independent lives. This could mean not having to give up driving, remaining in employment, being able to cook safely and read medication instructions. This research is still at an early stage but it will be exciting to watch how it progresses.”

In the more distant future, bird watchers might also want a zoom feature on their contact lenses.

[Image via Eric Tremblay/Twitter]