Samsung patent reveals ‘smart’ contact lens with built-in camera


Samsung has applied for a patent for a ‘smart’ contact lens. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

SAMSUNG is exploring the development of a contact lens that can project images directly into the users’ eye, take photographs and connect wirelessly to a smartphone, a patent application has revealed.

The South Korean copyright authority has published a 29-page application made by the consumer electronics firm two years ago, reported the technology blog Sammobile, offering a rare insight into a science fiction vision of a future technology that could be closer than we think.

The lens could overlay internet-connected services directly into the user’s line of sight, in an example of what is known as augmented reality. It could also discreetly – even covertly – take photographs. The device would be controlled by eye movements or blinking, according to the patent, and it would connect with a smartphone.

It is not clear whether patent sought in the application, which was written in Korean and made in September 2014, has been granted, or whether Samsung has begun incorporating the technology into a product.

But wearable technology and augmented reality tools are actively being developed by firms in need of new device ideas. Google launched its Glass headset in February 2013, yet its combination of conspicuous, clunky design and features including map directions, phone calls and video recording failed to inspire mainstream interest.

Virtual reality device makers, including Samsung, face a similar uphill struggle persuading a mainstream audience that their new headsets – which can seem unsightly and alienating – aren’t only for geeks.

The Samsung patent says the quality of the Glass augmented-reality experience “can be insufficient”, according to a translation.

According to the application, Samsung is exploring on-eye navigation instructions and the ability to search online for more information based on what a user happens to be looking at in the real world. Executives do not, however, seem to have acknowledged one of the main complaints against Google Glass: that people found the idea of “Glassholes” walking around with a potentially always-on, inconspicuous camera to be creepy.

Google has previously disclosed ambitions to build a connected contact lens, although the device was pitched as a way to measure glucose levels for diabetes patients.

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