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The US military has been searching for small-scale technology to augment service members’ visual capabilities in the field. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is interested in a new wirelessly-connected contact lens recently unveiled in France, Researchers at leading French engineering School IMT Atlantique have developed the “first autonomous contact lens incorporating a flexible micro-battery,” a lightweight lens capable of not only providing augmented vision assistance to users but relaying visual information wirelessly.

Although initially targeted at applications of augmented reality in the medical, automotive and industry sectors, the lens has garnered interest from both DARPA and Microsoft, which was recently contracted by the the U.S. Army to furnish soldiers with with its HoloLens augmented reality headset.

Storing energy on small scales is a challenging. The new lens can perform its functions without a bulky external power supply, capable of “continuously supply[ing] a light source such as a light-emitting diode (LED) for several hours,” according to the IMT Atlantique announcement.

DARPA’s been on the hunt for a high-tech eyepiece more than a decade, and the agency has funded several similar projects in recent years, according to nationalinterest.org.


In January 2012, DARPA announced that U.S.-based tech firm Innovega was developing “iOptiks” contact lenses designed to enhance normal vision by projecting digital images onto a standard pair of eyeglasses like a miniaturized heads-up display, “allow[ing] a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus,” as the agency put it.

Three years later, researchers at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) unveiled a DARPA-funded contact lens that “magnifies objects at the wink of an eye,” although researchers concluded that the technology was better suited for age-related visual deterioration rather than battlefield applications.

“We are on the cusp of a revolution that few people are aware of,” says Jean-Louis de Bougrenet de la Tocnaye, director of the optical department at the IMT Atlantique. “The smartphone, which today represents the pinnacle of mobility and connectivity, will disappear and, in a few years, it will be replaced by virtual and augmented reality headsets linked to connected implants. It is on this development that all the Gafam position themselves today,” he was cited by armyrecognition.com.