Smart contact lenses are the latest area of exploration in eyewear technology, and recent developments are paving the way for them to become an accessible reality. Thanks to new advancements in technology and a more significant focus on eye health, the global smart contact lens market is set to grow from $264.18 million (£208.72 million) in 2023 to $682.67 million (£539.41 million) by 2031. Contacts have long been a popular way to correct vision, address eye health and injuries, or change the appearance of one’s eye, but smart contact lenses are presenting enhanced capabilities and innovative uses beyond their typical functions. From powering augmented reality (AR) displays to detecting eye diseases, here’s how smart contact lenses are advancing:

Current contact lens technology

While regular contact lenses are typically used for vision correction, many options today have their own form of lens technology to enhance wear and target specific needs. Modern contact lenses, including the Acuvue Oasys, come with Hydraclear Plus Technology, which mixes the wetting agent into the contact lens formula itself to work in harmony with the eyes. It’s infused throughout the lens material instead of solely on the lens surface, allowing it to be released throughout the day for maximum comfort. Other contacts address certain vision issues. The Air Optix for Astigmatism contact lenses offer an improved experience for users with astigmatism, on top of other refractive errors like nearsightedness and farsightedness.

Augmented reality contact lenses

Beyond correcting vision, contact lenses may soon accommodate AR technology, enabling displays to be overlaid in one’s field of vision. AR eyewear isn’t a novel venture, as AR-powered smart glasses have hit the market and are seeing some positive reactions thanks to their advanced capabilities. However, creating smart AR contact lenses may bring a whole new wave of innovation combined with their convenience. Companies like Mojo are working on smart contact lenses that give wearers a heads-up display that appears to float in front of their eyes. In Singapore, scientists have developed a flexible battery that is as thin as a human cornea with the aim of powering it through human tears. The contacts can then transmit computer information, or AR displays directly into the wearer’s eyes. Rather than wearing smart glasses that can be bulky or odd-looking, smart contact lenses can create a seamless, natural look that won’t look too obvious, so wearers can use the technology wherever they are. Such technology can revolutionise daily tasks and even provide accessibility to people who are hard of hearing or physically disabled.

Disease detection

Contact lenses have been used to help patients heal and recover from eye injuries, but smart contact lenses may also help people detect signs of eye diseases, even at early stages. Many are unaware that they’re living with an eye condition as symptoms often start slow, but treatment may be more challenging as it progresses. As such, smart contact lenses are being explored to help patients monitor eye health more closely and keep track of any changes. Researchers in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces have developed a prototype smart contact lens that can help measure eye pressure accurately to detect glaucoma. Glaucoma is typically diagnosed using tests to measure eye pressure, but these are one-time tests that don’t track changes continuously. These smart contact lenses can comfortably detect tiny fluctuations in pressure and can do so regardless of temperature, which can throw measurements off. These lenses allow for continual monitoring without the usual challenges. This can be a game-changer for treating eye conditions and ensuring people can get the help they need early on. 

There are still challenges to overcome before smart contact lenses become widely available. Supplying power to such tiny devices and ensuring they are comfortable and safe for long-term wear are some of the hurdles researchers are working on. However, the potential benefits are vast, and it’s an exciting area to watch.