Researchers from the Faculty of Engineering at Israel's Bar Ilan University have developed a prototype contact lens that could enable the visually impaired to see the world in a whole new light. Developed by Professor Zeev Zalevsky, the contact lens processes digital images and translates them into tactile sensations which can then be felt on the user's cornea, allowing them to form a picture of their physical surroundings.

The system uses a smartphone or mounted camera to capture images that are then transformed into a form of electronic Braille. The lens, fitted with electrodes, then mechanically stimulates the cornea, enabling the perception of objects around the wearer. Zalevsky, who heads the Electro-Optics study program at Bar Ilan, said that only short training was necessary for users to become accustomed to and use the lens effectively.

"We did preliminary clinical trials on people and were able to transmit basic spatial shapes through tactile sense which the subjects were able to recognize after practice of a few minutes," Zalevsky told Gizmag. "The more shapes you wish to recognize the longer the training should be, but it is similar to what happens when a blind person learns to recognize Braille writing, it is the same type of learning."

The device is worn just like a regular contact lens and, while still in early development, holds significant potential as an aid for the visually impaired.

"It's like reading Braille, not with your fingertips but with your eyes," said Zalevsky. "We can encode an image with many more points than the Braille systems and use these to stimulate the surface of the cornea."

Though promising, the lens is yet to undergo thorough testing, with the team currently seeking funding to complete full-scale clinical trials and move into mass production.

"If we get the investment we are looking for, then the research and development period will be completed within about two years," said Zalevsky. "Obviously this is an estimation that strongly depends on the capability to get funding."

Source: Bar Ilan University