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The Military Technology

DARPA Works On Virtual Reality Contact Lenses 129

gManZboy writes "Binoculars and night-vision goggles have their limits. So DARPA is doing work at Washington-based Innovega iOptiks to create wearable eye lenses with tiny, full-color displays onto which digital images can be projected, to give soldiers better situational awareness. The lenses would allow users to focus simultaneously on images that are both close up (perhaps a display) and far away (perhaps a battlefield.) Using virtual reality technologies to improve how soldiers perform on the battlefield has been a particular interest of the U.S. military for some time."
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DARPA Works On Virtual Reality Contact Lenses

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  • Hoo Boy. (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Wild Norseman ( 1404891 ) <tw,norseman&gmail,com> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:26AM (#38900207)

    iOptiks? Cue Apple lawsuits in 5... 4... 3...

  • No double contacts. I wonder how this would affect those of us already wearing contacts. Prescription TV?
    • Re:Contacts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nzac ( 1822298 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:33AM (#38900239)

      I would assume its possible to shape them the same as normal contact and if they are not too thick it would be trivial to do so.
      It would be a replacement.

      • It'd raise the price hugely though. Easier solution: Wear glasses. Might have to get really rugged ones for military use.
        • by nzac ( 1822298 )

          It'd raise the price hugely though.

          No you just build it up a little more in some places i would think these would be custom built for perfect vision anyway. A contact lenses is just shaped plastic/glass. I guess it makes stocking lenses more difficult.

          Easier solution: Wear glasses. Might have to get really rugged ones for military use.

          Yeah glasses seem so much easier to make work for this.

          • It's a lot easier to change glasses/flip up/down a lens cover in combat than fart around trying to replace a contact lens if you want a different type of display.
        • I'm pretty sure that the price of the integrated HUD display trumps your vision prescription. Shouldn't be a problem to shape the lens to fit.

          Plus, it might not be possible to wear prescription glasses with the HUD contacts. It might effect the focal length.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I thought the military doesn't allow contacts on the battlefield. Isn't that why people have to wear those GI glasses?

      What happens if you're wearing a prescription contact and it falls out?

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        What happens if you're wearing a prescription contact and it falls out?

        You're blind in that eye, unlike if the screw on your glasses' earpiece falls out, in which case you're blind in both eyes.

        • by TheLink ( 130905 )

          You're blind in that eye, unlike if the screw on your glasses' earpiece falls out, in which case you're blind in both eyes.

          The latter is easier to fix in the field with a bit of tape. Carrying gaffer/"duct" tape around isn't that difficult, and a soldier might find it useful for lots of other stuff.

          I personally carry some tape in my wallet - it's wrapped flat around a small card so doesn't take much space (and yes I've actually used it a few times to fix stuff). Not sure if you could wrap "speed tape" that way and have it reusable.

      • What happens if you're wearing a prescription contact and it falls out?

        You ask everyone to stop shooting and not move a muscle while you search for it, then when you find it you get medevaced to a mobile eye surgery hospital which has all the right cleaning and lubricating solutions?

        Just a guess.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      feed a live picture to them. I'd rather have that, augmented hdhdvision, 270 fov etc.

  • by kawabago ( 551139 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:28AM (#38900213)
    then we will all become Borg!
    • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:55AM (#38900343) Homepage
      I already have optical implants. They got rid of my astigmatism and changed me from being intensly near sighted to being slightly farsighted. I still need reading glasses for close up work, but it's a lot better than it was before I got them, especially when you take into account the cataracts I used to have.
      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        How long ago did you get the implants? I have a CrystaLens in my left eye, and need no corrective lenses at all. I don't even need reading glasses and I'll be 60 in a couple of months. I was severely nearsighted with thick glasses all my life before the surgery. The CrystaLens was FDA-approved in 2003, mine was implanted in 2006.

        The GP and his fellow Borg-fearing youngsters will (probably) be assimilated. There will be no resistance, they will beg us to assimilate them!

        I know lots of cyborgs besides just my

        • How long ago did you get the implants? I have a CrystaLens in my left eye, and need no corrective lenses at all.

          I got my right eye done last April and the left one in May. I think my opthamologist was a tad dissapointed that I still need readers, but I haven't got the slightest complaint. And, I'm more of a cyborg than that, although I prefer to refer to myself as a bionic man. For about four years or so, I've had adjustable augmented hearing.
          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            It sounds like you do have a CryataLens. Practice reading without glasses, the muscles atrophy after the natural lens hardens and need to be built back up.

            • You do understand, don't you, that I wore glasses for over fifty years before the surgery and have needed the readers ever since? And, my opthalmologist doesn't have a problem with my needing them?
              • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

                Yes, same here. 20/400 vision all my life, wore thick lenses. I was 50 when I got contacts and needed reading glasses with them, since you can't focus contacts by pulling them down your nose. If you have the CrystaLens, try building the focus muscles up. Start with the smallest type you can read without glasses and work your way down. Ask your eye doctor.

                Oh, bad news if you were extremely nearsighted; the shape of the nearsighted eye makes it in danger of a detached retina. The surgery for that is NOT fun.

                • Start with the smallest type you can read without glasses and work your way down.

                  I think we're talking apples and oranges here. I don't use reading glasses because type is too small for me, I do it because I'm farsighted; my minimum focal distance is about half a yard or so, and anything closer is blurred without them. And, I just checked and neither of my implants is a CrystaLens. Both of them are ACRYSof IQ Toric IOL.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      then we will all become Borg!

      I think you missed the ??? step.

    • by MadKeithV ( 102058 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:07AM (#38900565)

      then we will all become Borg!

      You have beautiful eyes, baby. Where did you buy them?

    • No. No! Only the ones with enough money will be able to pay for the privilege of being borg. Those implants and enhancements aren't cheap, you know, and the borg queen's bonus just gets bigger every year.

    • Since there is government backing to some point, this is no longer science-fiction, but something that will happen in the near future. I'm looking forward to it.
    • iBorg!

  • Ok, night vision goggles and binoculars as mentioned in the summary are big bulky things, so it would stand to reason that you wouldn't want to wear those all the time. But why jump straight to contacts? Why not make some the size of regular glasses, which you'd think would be a helluva lot easier? I wonder whose campaign(s) iOptiks brib^H^H^H donated to.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      DARPA sets ambitious goals in order to make faster progress.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

        by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @03:35AM (#38900481)

        DARPA sets ambitious goals in order to make faster progress.

        How do ambitious goals make faster progress?

        With that logic I hereby set as a goal to get laid by no less than three hot celebrities by the end of the week; Eva Mendes, Jessica Alba, and that volcanic hot blonde from Chuck.

        Accordingly this means that progress will be achieved faster and I should get laid by a reasonably good looking, conscious and otherwise not impaired, healthy woman by the end of the month.

        I'll let you know how that works out.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by artor3 ( 1344997 )

          You laugh, but your odds of getting a reasonably good looking woman to sleep with you would go up if you groomed, dressed, and carried yourself the way you would while trying to pick up a supermodel.

          If you just take the path of least resistance (ugliest girl left at last call, to continue the analogy), you'll never know what you're capable of.

          • Richard Hammond recommends going for the ugly chick right off the bat, that way you leave with a girl and your friends go home alone :-P

        • Leaving the basement, washing and going to a club might help with that. You can't expect progress without effort - a goal is just a direction.
        • Why set your goals so low? You need to aim for the moon!

          I am now setting a goal to get in a foursome with Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman (hot grits optional), and get them to each bring me a supercar as a gift, before lunch. I figure I should be laid by a good looking woman and the owner of at least a high-end sports car before the night's out.

        • With that logic I hereby set as a goal to get laid by no less than three hot celebrities by the end of the week; Eva Mendes, Jessica Alba, and that volcanic hot blonde from Chuck.

          Only if you're willing to share them with me, big boy.

        • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )
          Quite. Now that you've set the goal, it could well happen twice as fast as it would have otherwise. So now instead of it happening never, it will happen in half that time!
  • by jpmorgan ( 517966 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:34AM (#38900253) Homepage

    How would these cope with saccades? The eye makes a lot of involuntary, unnoticed movements.

  • Just wondering (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Are soldiers actually using contact lenses on the battlefield? I'd think they might be a bit hard to keep clean and tidy, no? Does anyone know?

    • Re:Just wondering (Score:4, Informative)

      by unkiereamus ( 1061340 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @07:02AM (#38901073)
      I've never worn contacts on the battlefield, but I have worn them in BFE, Honduras for extended periods while doing medical work, and I can say this, if you're comfortable with contacts (ie. have trained yourself out of rubbing your eyes, your eyes produce enough extra tears to keep them moist, etc) and they're even vaguely breathable (think of the ads which claim you don't have to take your contacts out at night), you can pretty much completely ignore them for days and weeks at a time with no serious issues.

      Now, whether or not that holds true once you make them capable of running a display, I dunno.
      • You can take it even farther than that. I've successfully ignored them for months at a time when I was in a situation where I was unable to obtain either new contacts or suitable glasses. Average was about 3 months before they HAD to come out. But even then they could go back in a day later when the irritation went away and be fine for a few more months.
        Not that I'd recommend this, but it's just to say they hold up good under extended stays in extreme conditions.
  • Short on details (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Undead Waffle ( 1447615 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:37AM (#38900271)

    The article doesn't really give details on how it works. It sounds like these are just contacts you can project images onto. If that's true then you need a projector somewhere pointed at the eye. If that's true why bother with a projector rather than just using a pair of glasses? I'm not really seeing the advantage to this technology other than to say "hey we projected something directly onto someone's eye!"

    Unless I'm mistaken and these have their own power source or something, which would be quite impressive.

    • Re:Short on details (Score:5, Informative)

      by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:57AM (#38900355)

      Professor Babak Parviz [] has done some early work along these lines. Sounds like it might be some sort of inductive loop powering the circuits in the lens, with the external source being worn on your clothing or some headgear.

      The article linked also touches on the question I immediately had about this - how do you produce an image or text on a contact lens that's legible to the wearer? If you think about elementary optics, you quickly realize having something in focus on the lens is not the same thing as having it in focus at some point beyond the lens. Basically it sounds like you need to have extremely thin corrective lenses built into the contact itself so the displayed item will be in focus on your retina.

      • Assume I have a fully addressable LCD contact lens, its powered somehow and receives signals somehow.

        Do contacts rotate once they are on your eyeball?

        • Standard ones do rotate. Toric lenses are weighted to keep them in a particular alignment, which is necessary if the wearer's eyes are astigmatic.

    • Re:Short on details (Score:5, Informative)

      by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @02:59AM (#38900367)

      It looks like it may be similar to Innovega's display at CES. Details (heavy in the marketing gloss) are available here. []

      To summarize, the human eye is pretty bad at focusing on things nearby. Close one eye and hold your hand a couple inches in front of the other, and you'll see what I mean. In order to get around this so far, all the augmented reality glasses you refer to need to use some tricks to make it seem like the image is farther away than it really is. This makes the screens bulkier, more expensive, etc. The idea here is to create a contact lens onto which you can project an image so that it gets superimposed on one's vision, in focus, without any trickery, thus simplifying the design and allowing the AR devices to be lighter, cheaper, maybe use less power, and so on.

      As to how well it works, I have no idea. The info I linked to is quite obviously intended to attract investors and should be taken with a grain of salt. But if DARPA is working in the same vein, that would lend it some support.

      • Re:Short on details (Score:4, Informative)

        by zalas ( 682627 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @03:40AM (#38900503) Homepage

        From their diagram, it looks like each contact lens is composed of two lenses. Imagine making a tiny little lens that focuses a very close micro-display onto the retina and a normal sized contact lens for every-day use. Cut out the middle of the normal contact lens and insert this tiny little lens. You'll essentially have two "scenes" superimposed on your eye -- one focused on the micro-display and one focused on the surrounding environment. I imagine getting rid of aberrations on the tiny little lens is going to be very tricky and thus the resolution/image-quality of the entire display system might be quite limited. Another issue that's not so serious would be that your defocus bokeh would be kind of strange...

  • So, how long before the things can send infomation back? :) []
  • What I'd be very interested in finding out, is how do they intend to power those things? Magnetic induction coils? Also an interesting problem, how to get the display signal in there? Is it going to be a general purpose display, or are the first versions things that have pre-defined fields? The latter seems easier from a bandwidth point of view, as even a relatively low resolution general purpose screen will need quite a lot of data to be transferred.
  • by Zanterian ( 1624397 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @03:08AM (#38900391)

    First you make it possible,
    then you make it practical.

  • This is going to do wonders for all the ugly people of the world
    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      This is going to do wonders for all the ugly people of the world

      Could be... if only everybody else would wear the lenses and the ugly people control what is displayed.

      • by vlad30 ( 44644 )
        Almost right ... The Geeks will control what people see hacked in 3....2....
        • oh no i can imagine it now; trolls going around placing qr codes on everything that trigger a link to are walking some where and all of a sudden you have those images burned on you eyes. after several monthes of therapy every one starts researching how to disable auto launch on their contacts

      • Instead of the Laughing Man you just make yourself the Good Looking Man.

  • What no X-Ray Specs? I bet you could sell them to the Homeland Security folks, whether they worked or not. That would unnerve terrorist if they thought that the security folks could see through their clothes.

    US soldiers had a similar problem in Afghanistan: country yokels thought that the soldiers' mirrored sunglasses could see through their wives burqas.

    • And terrorists thought that a $20k plastic shell with blinkenlights on it was a bomb detector. But then, so did the security people. Two placebos are better than one!

  • by geogob ( 569250 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @06:57AM (#38901055)

    I have no Idea how they hope to achieve that. The surface of the cornea is certainly not within the depth of field of the eye, regardless how close it focuses. Plus, they explicitly say that the idea is to allow the user to get enhanced visual information while focusing on targets far away. This is a fundamental problem with this concept.
    Somehow, you have to shape the field so that it creates an overlapping image on the retina. Among the problem I quickly note are:

    - Knowing how exactly to shape the field, implying you need to know exactly where the eye is focusing and track it actively.
    - You need to compensate for eye movement... thus track those movement.
    - And, last but not least, you need to actually shape the field to match.

    All this is technically possible, but not within a compact lens. A large part of these problems have been implemented within laser eye surgery systems... which are somewhat bulky.

    They might as well try to input data directly into the optical nerve... seems almost more plausible.

    • "Oh Wilbur, go on back to your bicycles....

      That thing will never fly."

      • by geogob ( 569250 )

        The problem is not that they are trying to fly, rather that they are trying to break the sound barrier on their first flight.

        They'll eventually reach the sound barrier, but we're not quite there yet.

  • I always wonder how reality would it be for a children where virtual stuff is so real like everything else.

  • I would say, it is augmented reality, not virtual reality.
    Virtual reality in lenses would be no fun at all - *especially* if the simulation is out of sync with the real world ^^
  • by james_van ( 2241758 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:28AM (#38901617)
    How do they get past the sensory adaptation issue though? Having a contact lens with an image on it applied directly to the eye will work for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then the brain filters that image out. Our eyes are constantly making tiny movements meant to change the light hitting any particular spot on the retina. If the same light hits the same spot continuously, that spot becomes "fatigued" and stops sending information to the brain. The brain then fills in the empty spot with assumptions from the area surrounding that spot. Unless the image on the lens was in a constant state of change, we would stop seeing it. Really, research into displays on contact lenses is old news, this has been going on for years. As far as I can tell, no one has come up with a solution for sensory adaptation. Now, before a flame war starts - I may well be wrong about any part of this statement. I'm operating from memory, and my very well be incorrect. If I am, please let me know.
  • ... They put 'em in MY eyes, too! *Car crash*
  • Reminds me of the latest Mission Impossible:Ghost Recall movie where they have contact that provide a sort of data feed to a local smartphone. Though thinking about it, there seems to be an easier way to implement than a contact for the purposes they were using it for...
  • Images stabilized on the retina (say, for example any opaque elements on a contact lens) quickly become invisible. Our visual system relies on very rapid, continuous, small eye movements that constantly change the position of the image of the external world on the retina. A contact lens display, on top of every other technical hurtle, would have to compensate for this in a way that the visual system could readily interpret. It would also take a lot of practice to get used to display elements displaced fr

  • I suppose this would be more exciting if I could still wear contacts. Sjogren's Syndrome has given me 20% of normal tear volume, and I have plugs in my tear ducts to keep what little moisture my eyes do produce from draining away so fast. I never go anywhere without a bottle of eye drops.

    While I'm an odd exception, glasses would be far more practical and usable by more people. Just get Oakley to make a pair and get ready to profit!


  • In WWII, somebody had the bright idea of putting calibration marks on contact lenses for aircraft spotters. The markings might as well have not been there. Turns out, if something isn't moving relative to the retina, the brain tunes it out, and it disappears. (That's why your eyes are always making little jiggling motions -- keeps the image moving on the retina.)

    Now, if they have something that will project an image directly onto the retina, *that* would be something ...

  • how on Earth they will be able to orient the lenses when they're in the eyes. I believe the lenses stick to the eyeball in more or less whatever way they are placed. However, even a slight misplacement would cause an image distortion when the brain gets around to processing what it sees, due to the fact that each eye needs to see the same thing (with corrections being made to take care of perspective).

    To have VR, your eyes will have to be focusing on objects at different distances. The image display

  • First thing I learned in the Army (well, not the first thing, but a very important thing) is you don't wear contacts in the field. Too unsanitary, incompatible with corrective inserts in gas mask, and fracking painful when you get a faceful of diesel smoke after being awake 24 hours. Plus, think it might be kind of awkward if your targeting display falls out of your eye on the ground?

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel