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Patents foreshadow a future with intelligent contact lenses that view and record video

Published on 25 May, 2016

Might the future of video surveillance include the use of intelligent contact lenses that incorporate tiny built-in cameras that can record video at the blink of an eye?

It seems a little far-fetched, but it’s definitely an idea that’s on the drawing board. Three tech giants – Google, Samsung and Sony – have all sought to patent designs for intelligent contact lenses that include built-in CMOS camera sensors that record video, follow a person’s gaze and are controlled by blinking and eye movements.

Security applications for intelligent contact lenses

The uses for such technology are numerous, and some of them relate directly to security. In one sense, intelligent contact lenses are another “wearable” technology – a more discreet variation of the failed Google Glass, a wearable computer that resembles a pair of glasses. Much like Google Glass, the intelligent contact lenses would combine computing power with image capture and recording.

Digital zoom could enable a security officer to see images from farther distances, and image stabilisation could offset excessive eye movement

Our security market presents numerous ways such technology could be useful. A security officer wearing the contact lens could capture video of everything he sees, for example, and could see better with the help of thermal night vision or other video features. Digital zoom could enable a security officer to see images from farther distances, autofocus could make images clearer, and image stabilisation could offset excessive eye movement.

Video analytics alerts could prompt an officer to act, or face recognition software could instantly identify a criminal in a crowded room. An early warning could spot a hazard before it is recognised by the human brain.

Or a security officer could review previously recorded video, projected straight into his or her eye.

How would an eye-based system operate?

Controlling the eye-based video system would involve a user interface based on conscious blinking. A deliberate blink last minutely longer than an unconscious blink, but a computer can tell the difference and interpret the longer blink as a signal while ignoring the shorter. Tiny built-in piezoelectric sensors can measure differences in acceleration, temperature, pressure and/or force, enabling interpretation of eye movements.

Sony’s patent includes the ability to store video, while the other proposed contact lenses would send video to an external storage mechanism (or perhaps a video management system [VMS]?) using an embedded antenna.

Problems to address

There are obviously still issues to be addressed before such technology goes mainstream. For example, how do you power the device wirelessly? One possibility is to use electromagnetic induction, in which a modest electrical current is created by forcing a conductor through a magnetic field.

Most of us are too busy implementing today’s technologies to give much thought to what’s coming in the future. To be sure, there are aspects of smart phones and today’s other technologies that are still working their way into our collective system roadmaps. And there are other technology innovations – maybe not as futuristic – on the horizon that will impact how we work to make the world a safer place.

Even so, it’s interesting to consider the possibilities of the future, whether it’s driverless cars or a cure for cancer.

And futuristic contact lenses may be coming sooner than you think – they have been on the drawing board for several years, and the first patent applications go back at least to 2012. That’s a long time ago, given the fast pace of technology development in 2016.

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