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Humanizing Tech

Terminator Vision Coming to Contact Lenses

New research uses space age material for infrared vision

I. Overview

When most people think of Augmented Reality, they think it’s all about a digital overlay on top of a live stream. But it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, instead eyeglasses projecting an image on your retina like Magic Leap, you can physically add a material to a contact lens to change how we view reality.

In this case, use some really rad sounding novel physics (read: quantum tunneling) to let us view the world in night vision. Imagine tapping your AirPods and saying,

Jarvis, enable Terminator mode.
Scene from the original Terminator movie (left), screenshot of AR-Terminator iPhone app released in mid-2011

5 years ago, you may remember an iPhone app that came out with the same concept called AR-Terminator:

Today, however things have changed. We’re finally able to shrink the technology down to something that fits over our eye, instead of using a phone or a big VR headset that allows us to view infrared with fairly low power requirements.

II. Introducing Graphene?

Using Graphene, which is essentially an atomic-scale beehive 100 times stronger than steel, researchers at the University of Michigan created the technology necessary to make infrared sensors tiny enough to fit on a contact lens. Of course, it also allows that to be included as a future cell phone sensor on top of the existing camera lens. iPhone 9 augmented reality mode, here we come.

Interestingly, Graphene is already used in batteries, semiconductors, and general electronics. And because it’s made from Carbon atoms, and Carbon being the basic building block of life, you could end up finding this super material make its way inside our bodies in the future as part of Health 2.0.

Graphene By AlexanderAlUS

Along with the surprisingly efficient honeycomb structure of Graphene, it comes with a number of other curious properties. A few of these include:

  • 100 times stronger than steel
  • Conducts heat and electricity efficiently
  • Nearly transparent
  • Is a semiconductor, which means it behaves like a metal
  • Only solid material where every atom is chemically reactive from two sides, so edges are particularly susceptible to reactions
  • Electrons can move across it at the speed of light. Wait, WHAT.

You can read more science-ey stuff about how it can be a better semiconductor here. But the most important aspect of this material was mentioned above. Because of quantum tunneling, it means you can have two layers of graphene that wouldn’t normally be able to amplify a large enough electric charge to power itself. But because of this, it is able to detect the entire infrared spectrum and deliver it to your eyeball.

III. Use Cases

So aside from the more entertainment focused use cases, are there others that could benefit a normal, everyday person if they could see in infrared?

I think the first step is understanding what infrared vision gets you. It shows the intensity of heat. For example, here’s an infrared image of a cat:

The military has an obvious use case using their infrared goggles for night vision strikes. And because of that, you’ll always have little kids who want to play make believe. So there’s the toy aspect where you could give your kids infrared contacts and let them play at night in the back yard for a strike against the family puppy (he’ll never see it coming :).

But more practically, it could have use cases where heat becomes an important data point. So, not just for detecting where an animal is while hunting, if you have your license, but also for vulcanologists if the lenses were tuned appropriately that helps with safety.

And as we look at smelting factories in the US for steel and other metals, it could be a great safety protection system. You could see which areas are hotter than others from a distance.

But in the augmented reality sense, will infrared vision help you buy groceries or analyze an excel file better? Likely not.

But as a novel Snapchat, and now Facebook, video filter it could just be a fun way to experience a festival or concert in a way you’ve never done it before.

It also might find its way into self-driving cars in order to detect living objects and make better decisions on when to swerve or keep going. Maybe that thing the computer vision detected as a deer is just a hunting tool and not a real deer. So, things like that.

Finally, you might find it show up in home inspection where you can find leaks or insulation issues.

And last but not least, it might be helpful to go bust some ghosts.

The original Ghostbusters movie (left) and more recent remake (right). Slimer’s still a problem, even with Terminator contact lenses.


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Terminator Vision Coming to Contact Lenses was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

from Stories by Sean Everett on Medium https://humanizing.tech/terminator-vision-coming-to-contact-lenses-4a41d8748307?source=rss-1938dc3a06d8——2