Solar Powered Eyes - Powering Electronic Contact Lenses and Retina with Sunlight

blue eye in sunlight photo

Photo via chefranden via Flickr CC

During our "creepy gadgets" round up at Halloween, we mentioned the work scientists are doing on creating augmented reality contact lenses. Scientists have also been working for some time on electronic implants for people losing their photoreceptor cells on their retina. But exactly how might the devices be powered? Stanford scientists have figured out that the very same light entering our eyes that we use to see can be used to power the devices. Gizmodo reports that the scientists figured out that near infrared light can be both the the power source and data signal for electronics embedded into eyes and electronic contact lenses. The implant that allows them to do this magic is only 3mm wide, and 30 micrometers thick.

IEEE states, "The Stanford implant is designed as an array of miniature solar cells. The device--technically a subretinal implant, because it is placed behind the retina--is part of a system that includes a video camera that captures images, a pocket PC that processes the video feed, and a bright near-infrared LCD display built into video goggles. The pulsed 900-nanometer-wavelength image that shines into the eyes is enough to produce electricity in the chip."

While technically very complicated, over all it's a simple solution - Solar powered eyes for those suffering from progressive loss of photoreceptor cells. The vision wouldn't be perfect - in the best-case scenario, a photovoltaic prosthesis would be good enough only for face recognition and for reading large fonts. But that's certainly better than nothing. So far, there is no projection on when this technology would be available.

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