A light tap on the side of your head could one day restore your eyesight, according to Mohsen Shahinpoor and his team at the University of New Mexico. The tap would tighten a band of artificial muscle wrapped round your eyeballs, changing their shape and bringing blurry images into focus.

The researchers call their artificial muscle a ?smart eye band.? It will be stitched to the sclera, the tough white outer part of the eyeball, and activated by an electromagnet in a hearing-aid-sized unit fitted behind one ear.

Tightening the smart eye band causes the eyeball to elongate. In long-sighted people this pushes the retina backwards, bringing close-up objects back into focus. Expanding the eye band causes the eyeball to shorten. In short-sighted people this will bring the retina forward, making far-off images sharp and clear again.

Stitching a band of artificial muscle to your eyeball sounds drastic, but Shahinpoor says the necessary surgical techniques are already commonly used for treating detached retinas. He claims his smart eye band is far more flexible than laser surgery, in which a laser flattens the cornea by eroding part of it. Laser surgery can only correct short-sightedness. With the smart eye band implanted, instead of reaching for your reading glasses, you?d set your eyes to read a book by clicking a button on the device behind your ear. This would generate a magnetic field to activate the eye band?s artificial muscle.

Jim Schwiegerling of the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona likes the idea and says, ?When you sit down to read a book, you could just switch it on, and when you are done reading, you could turn it off and go out and drive a car.?

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