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Google's Smart Contact Lenses: A Closer Look

Alex Spencer

Hand+holding+-+zoomed+inGoogle has announced that its Google[x] experimental division is currently working on a smart contact lens for diabetes sufferers, to help them keep track of their glucose levels.

In its current form, at least, the lens isn't a Glass-style HUD display. It's more focused on input – measuring glucose levels in the users' tears using a miniaturised sensor embedded between two soft lens layers – than output, though Google says it is looking into integrating tiny LED lights to indicate when glucose drops below a certain level.

Google acknowledges in its statement that 'it’s still early days for this technology' and 'there’s still a lot more work to do' before the lenses are ready as a product people can use, but it has completed multiple clinical research studies and is in discussions with the FDA. Google is currently looking for partners to help it bring the product to market.

“Many people I’ve talked to say managing their diabetes is like having a part-time job. Glucose levels change frequently with normal activity like exercising or eating or even sweating. Sudden spikes or precipitous drops are dangerous and not uncommon, requiring round-the-clock monitoring,” reads the statement. “Although some people wear glucose monitors with a glucose sensor embedded under their skin, all people with diabetes must still prick their finger and test drops of blood throughout the day. It’s disruptive, and it’s painful. And, as a result, many people with diabetes check their blood glucose less often than they should.”

Alex Spencer writes:
Honestly, hardware announcements often leave us cold – but it's hard to be cynical about this news.

Initially, just hearing that Google is working on a smart contact lens was enough to excite my inner geek. Though the two technologies aren't really comparable in functionality at the moment, this has the same sci-fi appeal as Google Glass. And I reckon the idea that Glass will eventually be condensed into something that fits directly on the eye is a major part of that device's appeal.

But it's not as though Google is the only company working on this technology: Innovega, for example, announced its own smart contact lenses, with a full field-of-view, at this month's CES. I think it's the mHealth angle which is vital here, giving the device a clear use case – something which Glass, frankly, is still lacking – as well as making the devices difficult to criticise from an ethical standpoint.

Plenty of people have pointed out that Google has strayed from its classic 'Don't be evil' mantra of late, but it's hard to bemoan a major tech company working to make life easier for diabetes sufferers. Though, letting the cynicism seep back in for one moment, it's hard to imagine these lenses bringing in anywhere near as much money as Google's advertising business.