5G broadband cellular technology is showcasing some incredible potential for advancement beyond mobile phone communications. Because of the technology’s faster data speeds and low latency, 5G will boost artificial intelligence, IoT applications, and possibly even boost your vision! Today, Google filed a patent application to utilize the technologies for contact lenses.
According to background information included within the patent application:
 Today, “smart” contact lens technology is advancing to introduce into contact lenses features that include sensors for detecting glucose levels in a user’s eye, imagers for capturing images and mechanisms for dynamically changing optical properties that impact focal points. Example mechanisms that can be used to dynamically change the optical properties of a smart contact lens include polymer gels having refractive indexes that change with electrical stimulation or films that can expand or contract with electrical stimulation to change a shape or thickness of a smart contact lens.
 Current techniques for actuating mechanisms that dynamically change the optical properties of a smart contact lens, however, present several challenges. For example, techniques based on light-based actuation (e.g., light received into a photo-diode) may inadvertently actuate the mechanism if the user is gazing at a bright light, such as a headlight of an automobile. As another example, techniques relying on the user blinking or squinting (e.g., causing a sensed change in a capacitive field) may be inconsistent. Furthermore, current techniques may be independent from a direction of the user’s gaze, resulting in the focal point being inaccurate to focus light reflected from objects in the direction of the gaze.
ABOUT THE PATENT Application
Diving into the patent application, it is important to understand that the benefit of 5G is not limited to faster data for your phone. To achieve a higher data rate, a higher frequency signal is used. One interesting property about these electromagnetic signals is that the frequency of the signal and the wavelength of the signal are inversely proportional. This means in addition to a new level of data speeds the hardware needed to process these high-frequency signals can be miniaturized far beyond what was previously possible. 5G functions in the millimeter wavelength range, assuming a common half-wavelength antenna, that makes the required antenna size for this ultrafast communication at half of a millimeter, or just about two-hundredths of an inch. Compared to a similar 4G LTE system that would require a five-centimeter antenna or about two inches.
So what happens when all of a sudden the physical size limitations for hardware drop a thousand-fold? Integration of electronics into areas previously thought to be unobtainable. This week a patent application published by Google discloses a means of actuating a contact lens using millimeter, 5G, electromagnetic waves. Whereas previous iterations of “smart” contacts faced several hardware challenges as well as inconsistent useability, Google uses a polymer-filled bladder paired with the millimeter-wave communication system. As the millimeter antenna receives a signal it can actuate the bladder to adjust the focal point of the smart contact.
WHAT THE INVENTION WOULD DO
The smart contact apparatus comprises a polymer-filled bladder to be used as the lens of the contact, and a receiving and transmitting antenna to receive the signals to control the focal length of the polymer-filled bladder. Through the use of a control signal rather than physical means of control, the smart contact is able to provide a more predictable focal length to the user over the prior technology. Once the smart contact has received the signal the polymer-filled bladder that functions as the lens will change its structure to meet the received parameters.
WHY THIS PATENT IS INTERESTING
What this patent application demonstrates is a means of creating electronic devices so small they can be placed in the eye and the user will not be able to notice it, that alone is a novel feat. The fact that the electronic device is further capable of communicating with an external device and altering its structure to provide the user with a dynamically focusing lens is something that has only ever appeared in science fiction. Looking at the general trend of the miniaturization of electronic devices as the technology matures it could have been apparent that an invention of this type was destined to happen. This does not diminish the accomplishment of the inventors to properly design and execute a system that pushes the boundaries of new technologies.
Where does Smart Contact technology stand today? According to a recent article by Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student Bishakh Rout, the contact lens market is still expected to expand despite recent advancements in correctional laser technology.
Rout mentions that there are a variety of research efforts around smart lenses, including a lens that utilizes a sensor that monitors intraocular pressure. Additionally, some developers have already created lenses that respond to light changes with in-eye sunglass protection.
One fascinating new development is the Mojo Vision AR contact lens. According to the startup’s website, the Mojo lens utilizes “microelectronics and a tiny display” to create an augmented reality (AR) display of data within your lenses.
While Google’s latest patent application does not appear to hint at any potential AR technology integration, the company has endeavored down the path of wearable computer technology with its Google Glass product.
Written by John DeStefano, Technical Advisor
and Lauren Hawksworth, Marketing Administrator
May 20, 2021