Yesterday, Google announced that it is working on developing "smart" contact lenses that can assess glucose levels in your tears. If they work, the lenses would provide diabetics with an alternative to the current, invasive finger-pricking practice patients use to track blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Google introduced the "smart contact lens project" in a blog post:
Over the years, many scientists have investigated various body fluids — such as tears — in the hopes of finding an easier way for people to track their glucose levels. But as you can imagine, tears are hard to collect and study. At Google[x], we wondered if miniaturized electronics — think: chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair — might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy.
According to Google, two layers of lens material would envelop one tiny, wireless chip and one glucose sensor, and ideally would generate a glucose level reading once per second. The tech giant is also testing out the possibility of including LED lights inside the lens that would light up to warn wearers that their glucose level has crossed a certain threshold.
The lens could significantly improve the way the world's 382 million diabetes sufferers manage the disease. And though the announcement may be surprising to those of us who have come to expect frivolity like Google Glass or more out of this world projects like space exploration from Google X, the MIT Technology Review says the endeavor makes sense for Google Glass product leader Babak Parviz:
We covered his work on contact lenses with electronics inside while he was a professor at the University of Washington back in 2008, where he even built one with 16 working LEDs embedded (see “How to Build a Bionic Eye”). Monitoring glucose levels was just one of several applications Parviz imagined for the technology at the time, along with providing a head-up display that could be used for augmented reality applications.
MIT Technology Review adds that a similar lens has been tested by Switzerland's Sensimed, adding that European hospitals are using the lenses on a trial basis to test ocular pressure levels and manage glaucoma. A Korean company is apparently also toying with a more flexible, computer-like lens.
Google says it has spoken with the FDA but doesn't expect the lens to be commercially available for at least a few years, and hopes to join forces with partners before bringing the lenses to market. So plan on sticking a lot of things in your eyes in the not-too-distant future.