Bionic contact lenses—which would display navigation data, personal emails, or any other sort of info superimposed on the world before your eyes, have long been mainstays of science fiction.

Over the past several years, researchers have been working to make the tech real-world ready, striving to find solutions to the energy, size, safety, and image-quality problems that come up when you’re trying to fit a tiny integrated circuit into something transparent that sits on the eye.

Conventional contact lenses are polymers formed in specific shapes to correct faulty vision. To turn such a lens into a functional system, scientists can integrate circuits and miniature antennas into the lens using custom-built optoelectronic components. Those components will eventually include hundreds of LEDs, which will form images in front of the eye, such as words, charts, and photographs. Much of the hardware is semitransparent so that wearer can navigate their surroundings without bumping into things or becoming disoriented.

In all likelihood, a separate, portable device will relay displayable information to the lens’s control circuit, which will operate the optoelectronics in the lens.

There are still some significant improvements that need to happen before such lenses can display messages or integrate with navigation systems, including larger wireless range, higher pixel count, and human safety tests. But even a single-pixel bionic lens, the researchers wrote, “could be used in gaming, training, or giving warnings to the hearing impaired.”

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