Essentially, it involves a pair of glasses that does almost exactly what you’d do on a smartphone. Only it all occurs in your field of vision and relies on voice commands and eye movements for input.
I thought the idea behind the technology was great, “since instead of bombarding you with constant information that could be distracting, it gives you immediate, helpful guidance when it’s needed.” The problem was the design, as its current form makes users look like characters on “Star Trek.”
Ultimately, packaging the technology in a pair of contact lenses would be ideal. And as I said then, that “could be possible, considering there’s a bio-nanotechnology specialist working on the project, Babak Parviz, who has already created an electronic contact lens that can be used to display pixels. But until he can design a way to power the contacts through blinking, I’d say that’s a long way off.”
Luckily, Stanford University scientists have come up with an even better solution to providing power to optical devices.
To be clear, they didn’t have Google’s Project Glass in mind when they developed the technology. Instead, they’ve been working on a way to provide power to optical implants that help patients see.
Innovations That Help Reverse Blindness
You see, scientists have discovered a few ways to restore sight for patients with certain degenerative retinal diseases.
An article by Ferris Jabr in this month’s issue of Scientific American, for instance, explained how German scientist, Eberhart Zrenner, was able to embed a chip that replaced damaged photoreceptors into a few patients’ retinas.
Although the patients weren’t able to make out sharp images or colors, they could see different shades of grey in order to identify basic shapes and large letters.
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However, “the design left the patients vulnerable to skin infections [since] an external pocket-size battery pack delivered power to the amplifiers in the eye through a small cable threaded into the skin, leaving an open wound,” Jabr writes.
Then there’s a similar technology being tested at the Oxford Eye Hospital and King’s College Hospital in London. And while this technique doesn’t require an external battery, it does involve running cables from the eye to a power source located beneath the skin and behind the ear.
But Stanford researchers’ recent discovery could eventually eliminate “the need for complex electronics and wiring” altogether.
Solar-Powered Retinas on the Way
Basically, the process involves implanting a chip in the retina that acts like a solar panel. Then special glasses blast infrared light at the chip, creating an electrical signal.
The infrared-beaming glasses are required at this time since ambient light isn’t strong enough to power the implant. However, according to Popular Science, “lab tests show that a very weak signal, illuminating just one pixel, is enough to elicit a neural response… This means future versions could be fully integrated infrared laser implants.”
So eventually, the process could be completely internal, with zero wires involved. Plus, since the solar implant is placed in the retina, too, it can simply be integrated with the chips described above.
Like the researchers (quoted in the BBC) say, “Because the photovoltaic implant is thin and wireless, the surgical procedure is much simpler than in other retinal prosthetic approaches… Such a fully integrated wireless implant promises the restoration of useful vision to patients blinded by degenerative retinal diseases.”
With that said, the solution probably won’t be used for Google Project Glass anytime soon, since users likely won’t want a chip inserted in their retinas in order to check their Twitter feeds. But knowing that self-powered optical electronics are at least possible is certainly a step in the right direction.