A new type of contact lens that magnifies objects at the wink of an eye to assist people with impaired vision has been developed by Swiss scientists. Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne invented the new kind of magnifying contact lens that contains an wafer-thin telescope that turns on when the wearer winks their right eye and then returns to normal vision when they wink their left eye.

New Magnifying Contact Lens Activated By Winking

Eric Tremblay, a researcher at Switzerland’s EPFL, noted that the magnifying contact lens could help people with age-related macular degeneration and other conditions that cause loss of central vision.

The new lens magnifies objects by 2.8 times, which would be extremely use for people with AMD so they could recognize road signs, people and other objects using their peripheral vision.

Research on the new telescope device was funded by DARPA, the research division of the Pentagon.

More on the new magnifying contact lens

The magnifying contact lens is a little bit larger and thicker than a normal contact lens. It is designed so users can see normally by correcting for short or long sight. However, the central region of the lens is a thin reflective telescope, which magnifies the size of objects much like a weak pair of binoculars.

In order to switch between normal and magnified vision, the user wears a pair of liquid crystal glasses. When they winking, they switch the glasses electronically to polarize light in different planes. The new contact lens only allows one type of polarized light to pass through the normal, central part of the lens, while the other light goes through the magnifying region.

Of note, a good deal more development is required before the magnifying contact lenses are ready for marketing and full-time use. Tremblay pointed out the lenses can only be worn for about half an hour right now, as not enough oxygen passes through them into the eye. With luck, a working version of the contact lenses could be available in two years, Tremlay said.

Statement by researcher Eric Tremblay

“They [DARPA} were really interested in supervision, but the reality is more tame than that,” noted Tremblay at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.

He also pointed out that just five people have tested the latest version to date.