Today In Culture: Eyes on Dredd

By Jamie

August 25, 2013 Tech Culture No comments

In addition to many fine movies available to stream on Amazon Prime, there is also Dredd, a film 2012 installment in the Judge Dredd franchise. For a film taking place in the 22nd century, the technologies portrayed in the film are, for the most part, remarkably mundane. While spending many production resources on flashly explosions and slow-motion sequences, the high technology of the film is more or less limited to one large computer monitor dressed up in futuristic garb by showing 3D floorplans, windowed security CCTV feeds, the classic Windows star screen saver, and a terminal window — pretty much a regular episode of 24.

The most adventurous piece of technology portrayed is a set of bionic eyes possessed by the “clan techie.” It’s never made clear what these actually do other than serve as eye-candy (pun intended) because the character still uses a computer monitor and displays no special abilities. Their only function is to look pretty – Tron-blue in color with bladed iris adjustable diaphrams – and move the plot forward in an almost negligible way (and even then without any reference to actual functionality). In fact, there’s even a poignant Yahoo Answers question: “I just finished watching the Movie Dredd and I couldn’t really figure out what the cybernetic eyes did to help the Clan Techie do his job. I think his regular eyes would have done just as well. Just curious.” There’s even some fan fiction out there trying to fill in this tantalizing hole.

Although the writer (Alex Garland of 28 Days Later) and director weren’t very adventurous in their exploration of future technology and did little to flesh out the concept of cybernetic eyes, there are many fascinating contemporary projects which seek to bring computing into sight (literally) and augment our visual capabilities in a variety of exciting ways.

Smart Contact Lenses

In light of the public’s fascination with Google Glass, and in recognition of its fairly noticeable form factor, many people are looking forward to Glass on a contact lens. The groundwork is being laid out right at this moment, with small successes in inductive charging and communication, and lens-mounted LEDs. However, challenges still remain. As MIT Tech Review reports, the current prototypes feature just an LED or two, but even that can be practical for alerting a user to some condition such as an SMS alert, even if you can’t read it on the lens.

Prosthetic Vision

An alternate version of a visual prosthetic relies on the sensation of touch upon the cornea itself. Prof. Zeev Zalevsky of Bar-Ilan University in Israel is developing a contact lens-type device that will translate visual information into a high-resolution tactile surface pressed against a wearer’s cornea. Despite blindness, trial users have demonstrated an ability to interpret the input to navigate their environments (more here).

Elsewhere, researchers have developed a prototype magnification lens, which they believe could help patients suffering from macular degeneration. Reported here, the device appears to deliver normal and 2.8x magnified vision separated by orthogonal polarization — the user then selects the vision mode by limiting viewing through a horizontal or vertical polarizing filter (in this study a pair of glasses for 3D-tv viewing).

A separate technology aims to provide blind persons with sight by directly stimulating healthy optic nerves while bypassing non-functioning photoreceptors responsible for certain types of blindness. The Argus II, developed by Second Sight, does so with a glasses-mounted video camera attached to a wearable computer, which then wirelessly passes signals to an implant in a patient’s eye.

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