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3D Printing for Contact Lenses

We’ve seen countless new inventions to make our lives easier, but when it comes to crazy new tech in our vision, few options have surfaced. That might change, thanks to a breakthrough in another seemingly from-the-future technology: 3D printing.

Recently, a group at Princeton University built a 3D printer that can print LEDs — the tiny light emitting diodes that are responsible for many of the bright screens we stare at all day long. In fact, until this breakthrough, the two-dimensional surfaces like smartphone screens and televisions were the only way we could use LEDs.

In theory, 3D-printed LEDs could allow for one of the holy grails of vision technology — the heads-up display. Perhaps most popularly known for their application in fighter jets, though increasingly available in high-end and performance autos, a heads-up display (HUD) projects information into the viewers field of view, allowing them to both watch the scene ahead as well as see pertinent stats. In a car like the ToyotaPrius or Chevrolet Corvette, the units can project speed, range, or navigation information onto the windshield so the driver doesn’t have to look away from the road to check a gauge.

3D printed contacts would be invisible to others all while presenting valuable data for the wearer without having to look away — imagine brushing your teeth while looking at the weather forecast! Of course, there are still several hurdles to overcome, both technological and otherwise. Any wearable technology brings up questions about privacy and usage, and researchers still have plenty of problems to work out, namely how to get a tiny power supply in the contact lens to power the LEDs and associated costs.

Of course, contact chock-full of electronic technology will require some maintenance, and before they make it to your bathroom counter, eye care professionals will have to vet such technology to make sure it’s still healthy for use. After all, contacts require a fair amount of care and maintenance to make sure they stay clean, in good condition and aren’t causing irritation or other problems.

That’s part of the reason why contact wearers have to head to the doctor once a year for a checkup and to have their prescription checked and renewed. Adding LEDs, power sources and more might very well mean there’s more to it than using best practices like washing hands, using approved contact solutions and taking pains to avoid getting germs on the lenses.

Challenges aside, the future of a contact-based HUD seems bright.