Back at CES, we met with a company called Innovega that was busy working on some special contact lenses that could enable previously impossible virtual and augmented reality devices. The BBC is reporting that DARPA has just placed an order for prototypes, and Innovega says you'll be able to buy yours by the end of 2014.
What makes Innovega's iOptik system so clever is that it does no more and no less than restructure your eyeballs to be able to focus on things that are close and things that are far away at the same time. And when we say "close" we mean closer than your eyes are otherwise physically capable of, thanks to some clever filters integrated into the lenses themselves. Normally, you need very bulky optics to be able to do this, and the larger (and more immersive) the field of view you want to have, the larger still those optics have to be.
So, when you look at Google's new augmented reality glasses (for example), you've got this huge chunk of optics there, and you're not going to get resolution or a field of view anything like you see in their concept video, because your eye is incapable of focusing like that. The only way to make Google's fantasy real, as far as we know, is to use a pair of iOptik lenses.
Now that DARPA's ordered a bunch of prototypes, Innovega says that they'll be able to power through some clinical trials (to make sure these lenses are eyeball-safe) and have this tech up for grabs for consumers by 2014. Just keep in mind that by themselves, iOptik lenses aren't good for much: you need to pair them with a compatible display system, which Innovega imagines might look something like this:
I'll take two.