advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On A Startling Breakthrough, Or, Will Your New Eye Need Tech Support?

We have all seen some impressive advances in technology over the past couple of decades—and many of them have represented science fiction becoming, to one degree or another, science fact.

Sometimes even better.

Dick Tracy’s “wrist TV” is at least equaled by the iPhone...the average minivan carries an network of electronic signal distribution that rivals anything in Buck Rogers...and modern communicators are giving George Orwell a run for his predictive money by advancing their arts in ways that I’m willing to bet even he never anticipated.

But even in the context of all this “gee-whiz” technology something comes along that offers the potential to change so much of what we do today that it deserves special note—even in the midst of a madly competitive political season.

And it will most assuredly change the way you see the world—forever.

So what’s all this big fuss, you’re asking?

How about this: University of Washington scientists have figured out how to implant minute circuitry inside contact lenses that makes it possible for the lenses to function in ways never before possible...meaning that everything you know about human vision is about to utterly and completely change.


How about contact lenses capable of acting as telescopes and microscopes?

How about night vision...or infrared...or the ability to switch modes as needed?

This is entirely possible; reports Babak Parviz of the UW’s School of Engineering...and it may be commercially available within 10 years.

How can this be done?

Traditional methods of manufacturing miniaturized circuits involve etching the required circuits onto “buildups” of appropriate material, layer by layer (a process that would destroy any contact lens material)...but in this case, the circuits are “self-assembled” inside an ordinary contact lens, using capillary action to pull the tiny units together within the lens itself.

(Speaking of science fiction coming to pass: this is a perfect example of the potential of nanotechnology becoming reality...)

The lenses, to the eye, feel exactly the same as the contact lenses you wear today (because they basically are), and because there are portions of the eye’s surface that do not gather light, there’s plenty of space to implant circuitry that will never be seen by the wearer.

The news I’ve presented so far is great if you’re an amateur astronomer...or ornithologist...or crime scene investigator.

But to be honest, it doesn’t really offer the “zing!” I promised in the beginning of the story. So let’s kick it up a notch, shall we?

Why don’t we...oh, I don’t know...why don’t we give your new eye a wi-fi connection?

Are you kidding?

No, I’m not.
It’s actually, again, well within the realm of possibility...and not even that technically daunting of a task, if I understand correctly.

Now you may be asking: “What does a wireless connection do for me”?

How about a contact lens that can display your iPhone directly to your eye, transparently, so that you see the Internet through your contact lens “screen” while simultaneously maintaining a view of the “real” world?

Of course, with the exception of those annoying bandwidth, signal-to-noise, and second-order interference issues sending what you see will be the simplest thing ever (broadcast engineers are allowed to do a spit take at this point) making everything from emails to sports coverage a completely new experience for everyone. (Imagine seeing the incoming fastball exactly as the batter sees it—through his very own eyes...or seeing the quarterback’s view as the defense closes in, thanks to the “in eye” cameras that sports broadcasters will rush to adopt as soon as they’re available.)

Driving will be utterly transformed. Imagine a rear view camera superimposed over one eye whenever you want to know what’s behind you...or, again, night vision capabilities—or an enhanced ability to see in fog...or the ability to see farther into the distance as your speed increases—not to mention the ability to determine the speed of the other cars, and access to traffic information and traffic cameras...and all the while never taking your eyes off the road..

Soldiers who can “see” through walls...cops and firefighters who can access databases and maps while outside the vehicle...mechanics who can access the tech manual while looking at the part being repaired...and surgeons who can access imaging of a patient while operating on that patient--and compare old images to new anatomy without ever lifting a scalpel or turning the head away from the work.

And none of this is even the coolest part.

Try, just for a moment, to imagine what this is going to do to video games, simulations (pilot training, for example), engineering and architectural design tools...and the movie and television industries.

For example, if you have a couple of hours to kill (perhaps an airplane flight...) you might access Netflix and download a video to your handheld device...and then watch it in the aspect ratio of your choice directly on your eye(s).

The next generations of PSP-like devices might interact with the new eyes by becoming more sophisticated controller devices, leaving the contact lenses to become the display...the potentially 100% immersive display that creates an environment that can be as transparent as you wish—either allowing you to see the outside world...or completely removing it from your sight.

Now you gotta admit, that is pretty cool.

So that’s our story for today: a new way of making contact lenses that will soon make the way we look at vision totally obsolete, transform the way we perform a thousand common tasks, and turn entertainment from something we look at on a screen to something that fills every part of our vision—creating images we could never before experience in such an immersive way...and it’s predicted all of this could occur in the next decade.

I don’t know about you, but this is one time I’m actually looking forward to an impending future.


Colin Campbell said...

What great potential. I am happy however that I have good eyesight. That is fine for me.

fake consultant said...

particularly when you think about the entertainment and driving applications..."enhanced" eyesight might still be of interest.

not to mention how it could improve golf...