Scientists have offered a vision of the future of augmented reality with a contact lens featuring an LCD display.
A team of researchers at the European research lab Imec and Ghent University in Belgium have developed a prototype contact lense featuring liquid crystal display (LCD) technology used in screens found in tablets, laptops and TVs.
The spherical display fits onto a contact lense and can overlay images directly onto a person's field of vision.
This has been achieved in the past using light emitting diode (LED) technology, but the display has been limited to just a few small pixels. By using LCD-based technology, it is possible to cover the entire field of vision, opening intriguing uses in medical and consumer applications.
Currently, the technology can only display small amounts of information, with an initial prototype displaying just a dollar sign on the lens. More elaborate images could be made possible in the future, according to the researchers.
For example, it may be possible to control the light transmission reaching a patient's retina in the case of damage.
Companies such as Google and Microsoft have already been developing augmented reality devices for eyesight, with proof of concept devices generating large amounts of interest.
Overlaying heads-up displays (HUDs) using contact lenses would also be a possibility, and the market for wearable electronics is already forecast to reach $6 billion by 2016, according to analysts.
According to the scientists, devices suitable for consumer use could be available in just a few years now that the basic technology had been proven.
The main difficulty in producing the lenses has been to create a LCD that was not only flexible, but formed into a spherical shape.
“Normally, flexible displays using liquid crystal cells are not designed to be formed into a new shape, especially not a spherical one. Thus, the main challenge was to create a very thin, spherically curved substrate with active layers that could withstand the extreme molding processes,” said Jelle De Smet, the main researcher on the project.
He added that thin polymer films had to be engineered to enable the necessary smoothness required to display an image on the curved display.
“By using new kinds of conductive polymers and integrating them into a smooth spherical cell, we were able to fabricate a new LCD-based contact lens display,” De Smet said.
Another researcher, Professor Robert De Smet, said that the research paves the way for the development and commercialisation of the technology.
"Now that we have established the basic technology, we can start working twoards real applications, possibly available in only a few years time," he said.