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01.10.12 - EPFL scientists are developing a prototype of a pair of “augmented” glasses. You’ll be able to read messages, look at your agenda, and receive a variety of information directly on the lenses.

No need to turn to your smartphone to check the time, look at your agenda or the weather forecast, read a text message or map a route in an unfamiliar city. All this information, and much more, will soon be displayed on the lenses of “augmented” glasses via a mini-projector placed on the frames - and on the condition that you’re also wearing a specially designed pair of contact lenses.

EPFL scientists in the Laboratory of Photonic Devices are currently working on a prototype that’s similar to the project announced this spring by Google. The applications envisioned for this eagerly awaited invention run the gamut – games, GPS, teaching enhancement, support for the deaf and hard of hearing, and myriad other kinds of augmented reality.

With contact lenses

In order to finalize a project like this, the team will have to overcome a number of technological challenges, the most formidable of which is finding a way to allow the user to simultaneously see the information displayed on the lenses – which are too close to the eye for it to be able to focus naturally on it – as well as see his or her surroundings. The researchers solved this problem by developing a specially designed contact lens with a micro-lens in its center that allows the eye to focus on the images. “This technology has many advantages,” says professor Christophe Moser. “It provides high-definition, precise images. And unlike other models of the same kind, it conserves the entire field of vision and allows us to use existing eyeglasses design.”

Most users don’t relish the idea of having to put on contact lenses in addition to wearing a pair of glasses, however. “For the majority of users, it would be possible to make glasses that don’t require the use of contact lenses, but the high definition would be somewhat reduced,” adds Moser.

Holographic process

The Laboratory is working closely with EPFL start-up company Lemoptix, which specializes in miniaturized projection systems, to develop a high definition micro-projector that will blend discreetly into the right arm of the glasses. From this projector, images and information will be sent to the specially treated glasses lens via holography. This is a process in which the light scattered off of an object is recorded and then later reconstructed in 3D in the absence of the object. In the case of augmented glasses, the hologram will be projected on the lenses in such a way that the image is reflected in the direction of the eye, while the lenses still appear transparent. The user thus can still see through the glasses.

Before this invention can be commercialized, however, all these technologies must be refined, tested, and put together. It will likely be between two and five years before we’ll be able to put on a pair of these glasses.

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