Fans of the original film in the Terminator franchise will recall how various bits of data were shown to be overlaid on the cyborg's vision - in particular, they might remember the list of possible responses that could be used when someone was angrily knocking on its door (for those who don't remember, its chosen response wasn't very polite). Such augmented vision systems are now a little closer to reality, thanks to work being done by a team of scientists at the University of Washington and Aalto University, in Finland. They have created a contact lens that displays information, which is visible to the wearer.

The device utilizes an antenna that harvests power emitted by an external device, along with an integrated circuit that stores energy, then transfers it to a transparent sapphire chip containing a single blue LED. That boils down to the device currently just displaying one pixel, although the researchers believe that combining hundreds of pixels wouldn't be too far-fetched - that amount would be enough to display simple messages across the user's vision. These messages could include simple texts, emails, or health alerts from linked biosensors. It's also possible that the technology could have applications in gaming.

Ordinarily, the human eye can't focus on anything less than several centimeters away from itself. This problem was overcome by incorporating a set of flat, thin Fresnel lenses into the contact lens, which would be able to focus an image of the pixel onto the user's retina.

After the basic principle of the contact lens was shown to work under laboratory conditions, it was fitted to the eye of a live rabbit, to determine whether it might have any harmful effects. None were detected.

Besides increasing the number of pixels, however, the team faces at least one other hurdle before the device is ready for practical use - power. While the lens was able to wirelessly receive power from a distance of up to one meter (3.28 feet) when tested in open space, that amount dropped to about two centimeters (0.79 inches) once it was applied to the rabbit's eye.

The U Washington/Aalto project is building on groundwork established a few years ago, when the University of Washington announced that it had created a functioning "bionic contact lens."

A paper on the latest research was published yesterday in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.