SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA—Wink your right eye to zoom in; wink your left eye to zoom out. Those are the operating instructions for a vision-enhancing system that could be a workaround for certain kinds of vision loss—or a futuristic upgrade to human sight. A new prototype of the technology, presented here today at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes Science), relies on contact lenses (above) containing tiny aluminum telescopes that interact with a pair of eyeglasses to toggle between normal and 3x magnification. The telescopes were first developed with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funding as superthin cameras for aerial drones. But they were reimagined as an aid for people with age-related macular degeneration—the loss of light receptors on the inner surface of the eye that blurs the center of the visual field. (A zoomed-in view allows still-working parts of the retina to better recognize details such as human faces.) Today, optical engineer Eric Tremblay of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne revealed a new accessory that may make the contacts more appealing for the average person: zoom-controlling glasses that receive signals from reflectors in the contacts. When a user covers one of the reflectors by winking, the glasses change their polarization. Two kinds of polarized light take two different paths through the contact lenses, activating the normal or magnified view. The next major hurdle for the developers: making the lenses breathable enough for long-term wear.
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