Company Designs MEMS-Based Energy Harvester for Contact Lenses

An Irvine, Calif.-based startup has invented an energy-harvesting power source for contact lenses that will enable the next-generation of optically delivered digital and biomedical applications.

EPGL Medical has created a micron-sized piezoelectric energy harvester that can fit within a contact lens and harvest energy from blinking and other eye movements, EPGL's President and CEO Michael Hayes told Design News.

This microelectrical mechanical systems (MEMS)-based harvester will provide a consistent wireless, battery- or RF-free power for applications that can deliver medication or a wide range of information to wearers of the lens, he told us.

"The mechanism is an array in the lens that generates the energy from the movement of the eyes," Hayes said. This eliminates the need for an RF transmitter or some kind of battery to power the lenses for external applications that can deliver everything from stock quotes to blood-sugar levels to weather information to users as if on a screen, but instead, right in front of their eyes.

The harvester -- only a few microns thick so it can fit comfortably in the lens undetectable by the wearer -- also works around the clock, providing a perpetual source of energy, he said. "Your eyes are always moving -- even when you're sleeping they're moving."

While Google Glass provides people with high-tech glasses that can allow them to navigate the web and applications to view information in front of their eyes, next-generation contact lens technology will take this concept even a step further, Hayes explained. "The next generation of applications for wearable display is moving into contact lenses," he said. "You want to check your blood sugar level, blink your eyes and boom, it's in front of your eyes."

Contacts lenses not only will be able to deliver information to wearers, they also could potentially deliver medications. In fact, David T. Markus, EPGL's vice president and chief of bioMEMS development, invented the energy-harvesting device for one of EPGL's own technologies -- a low-intensity pulse ultrasound for eye regeneration that can be delivered in a contact lens -- and realized it could have a much broader application as well.

The harvester is available now for commercial licensing and already has interested customers. Depending on how swiftly this technology is adopted, visual-information applications using the harvester could be as little as months away, Hayes told us. "It could take off tomorrow or it could take another few years," he said.

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