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Why settle for the eye of the tiger when you can have the eye of The Terminator? Babak Parviz, a bionanotechnology expert at the University of Washington in Seattle, is developing a contact lens with an embedded CPU that can both gather and transmit data. It will provide the wearer with easy access to "augmented reality," or sensory information ramped up with computer power. And it will do more than just help you acquire targets, or decide whose leather jacket would fit you best.
If you've ever watched a televised football game and noted the first down line superimposed over the image of the field, or wandered through a museum listening to audio commentary about the exhibits, or used a GPS to navigate unfamiliar terrain, you've benefited from augmented reality. But all those options require an external device, when it would be so much more convenient to have the facts in your head. Compare the tricorder in Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- very useful, albeit a little clunky -- with Geordi LaForge's VISOR in Star Trek: Generations, which is both functional and fashionable. But even that is so... obvious.
Parviz's futurific enhanced lenses will be harder to spot, because like conventional contacts, they'll be see-through (an ultra-fancy contraption isn't practical if its users keep crashing into the furniture). "These lenses don't give us the vision of an eagle or the benefit of running subtitles on our surroundings yet," Parviz writes in an article, but he envisions that the lenses will one day "include hundreds of LEDs, which will form images in front of the eye, such as words, charts, and photographs." And of course, instructions on where to find and eliminate John Connor.
Perhaps an eventual model will even allow the wearer to see through walls, like Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The Auror is missing a few key body parts, but he compensates with an eye of miraculous mobility that can swivel 360 degrees and look through the back of his own head. Now that's functionality even Arnold would covet.
Parviz's invention won't stop at simple fact-finding, either. Like the Terminator's ability to monitor his own damage, the scientist proposes using the lens to monitor the health of its user. "We've built several simple sensors that can detect the concentration of a molecule, such as glucose. Sensors built onto lenses would let diabetic wearers keep tabs on blood-sugar levels without needing to prick a finger."
For those interested in more permanent -- and even more integrated -- improvements, Canadian documentary filmmaker Rob Spence, whose eye was damaged in a shooting accident when he was nine, had it replaced with a prosthetic that contains a tiny video camera and a wireless transmitter. The 37-year-old calls himself an "Eyeborg for hire" and plans to begin shooting events from a truly first person perspective. "I'll be getting that magical eye-to-eye contact," he explains. Plus, unlike Cyberdyne Systems's models, he can be negotiated with.
Bionic eyes may sound like such a '70s concept, but now it seems, like the Terminator, it'll be back.