DARPA to Test Dual-Focus Contact Lenses that Offer Superman Vision

By Alexandra Burlacu | Apr 16, 2012 10:49 PM EDT

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The Pentagon has ordered a special type of contact lenses that provide a much wide field of vision, reported the BBC. The prototype lenses also allow users to simultaneously focus on a specific image and on their environment. The lenses are reportedly designed to work with head-up display (HUD) units, i.e. glasses with images projected onto their lenses. According to the product's Web page, the field of view would be up to 120 degrees.

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The U.S. Army and Air Force are already using much bulkier HUDs to superimpose data over users' views, but this new technology could significantly enhance troops' awareness on the battlefield.

The prototype contact lenses are called iOptik, and were developed by Washington-based firm Innovega.

Innovega had signed a contract to deliver a fully-functional prototype to the Pentagon's DARPA research laboratory, the developer told the BBC. The project has previously received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense. "The new contract gives us an immediate opportunity to start prototyping and demonstrating elements of this new system," Innovega's Chief Executive Steve Willey told the BBC.

Dual Focus - How it Works

Normally, the human eye cannot focus on more than one image at a specific distance at the same time. The prototype lenses, however, promise to overcome that hurdle by allowing two images at variable distances to be viewed at the same time. While the projected image will go through the retina display, the background image will still be visible to the user.

The lenses have two different filters, which allow the user to focus on two things at the same time - both the data superimposed onto the glasses' lenses and the more distant surroundings that can be seen through the lenses. The central part of each lens is designed to send light from the HUD towards the middle of the pupil. Meanwhile, the outer part sends light from the surrounding environment to the pupil's rim. This means that the retina receives each image in focus and at the same time.

"Normally, for example, with a camera you focus on something distant or something close - but you focus on a particular spot," explained Willey. "By wearing our contact lens you automatically have this multi-focus, or dual-focus, and you are doing something that humans don't usually do."

The lenses are currently still under FDA scrutiny, undergoing various clinical trials as part of the approval process. Innovega's plan is to eventually license its technology to various display and contact lens manufacturers, and Willey said the tech should be available to the public by 2014.

(reported by Alexandra Burlacu, edited by Dave Clark)


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