Tech enthusiasts are constantly in search of the next big thing. And although there is a lot of progress to be made, some technology experts think that the future may not need screens at all.
Based on recent advances in biology and optics, they argue that we might one day be able to build electronics directly into our retinas or even replace our retinas altogether with advanced cameras capable of projecting what we want to see.
“The eye can actually function perfectly well, and arguably better, if it’s not connected to the outside world,” says Dr. Neil Gershenfeld from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “The retina is essentially a chemical camera and we should be able to do everything the way nature does that chemically.”
When you look at something in real life, your brain receives information from a multitude of different parts of your vision. For example, when you look at a apple, it sends optical information about colour, texture and form as well as mechanical information about light intensity that is processed by your eyes.
But what if you could use optics to project information directly onto the retina – a sort of virtual reality that would provide a visual display in front of your eyes? This might be possible if it is possible to build electronics directly into the retina itself.
According to researchers, this may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. In recent years, scientists have been able to grow retinas on small chips made from biodegradable materials like collagen or gelatin. This means that one day, we may be able to replace our own retinas with high-tech cameras.
According to Dr. Ivan Valenzuela, a retinal surgeon at the University of Michigan, in a 2013 study published in Nano Letter, he and his colleagues grew mini retinas on polyimide sheets.
The researchers used these mini retinas to make a microscope that could image living cells and bacteria. The device is quite impressive: tiny silicon chips are embedded into the retina’s camera and placed onto the backs of mice to function as retinas; therefore, it can be used as an optical microscope to see live cells and bacteria.
John Rogers from the University of Illinois says that these miniature cameras have huge potential. “These chips are inexpensive, flexible and can be fabricated with existing fabrication technologies,” he says.
Of course, for this technology to work, we need a way to project what is being seen on the retina. It would also be amazing to be able to see into the future by seeing ourselves through a virtual reality.
Scientists in Israel have been working on lasers projected onto the eye’s retina to formulate images, replacing screens. Eyejets is going against other tech giants in the smart glasses space and has created their own hardware, which they believe will replace smartphones. Imagine all the activities we can do today on our smartphones, lasered into our retinas, eradicating the need for screens.
The laser can follow the movement of the retina on the glasses frame, doing so allows the laser to be corrected constantly on the retina ensuring whichever direction it is in, the image is projected. Although the current prototype is only a proof of concept which shows positive signs of it working, there is still lots of research and development to make the device a marketable product.
The glasses work by having lasers mounted on them, which project green and blue light, which is focused on the retina by a tiny beam splitter. This is then beamed into the eye at a low intensity. It is thought this technology is better for eye health than the smartphones we use today as it projects a fraction of the laser energy emitted in handsets like the iPhone 14, which uses infrared lasers for facial recognition.
Eyejets claim its technology is one of a kind as they are the only company combining VRD with a unique eye-track technology. This means the image from a smartphone screen constantly remains in view. Furthermore, the technology can be fitted to glasses even with the user’s own prescription lenses, making the tech light and comfortable to use. Their long-term aim is to be able to create this type of technology that can be used every day in glasses or even as attachments and make using screens obsolete.