Google Developing Smart Contact Lenses

by Jeff Wiener on January 21, 2014

Google is looking to take wearable technology to a new level, delving farther into the human eye with the announcement of its smart contact lens project. The search engine giant made international news late last week when it announced its research and development arm, Google X, was working on smart contact lenses that would use tears to measure the glucose levels in the human body, making it an ideal companion for the growing number of people living with diabetes.

Part of the company’s programme to delve into all areas of the human experience, Google is hoping this latest development will be but the first of many it makes into the health sciences, providing technological tools for people struggling with complex and often life-altering maladies in an effort to make their lives more manageable.

But while Google is making all the headlines, the company is not the first to delve into technologically advanced contact lenses, not by a long shot, although if you’re thinking Google would then be humble enough to admit that its standing on the shoulders of giants, well you’d be wrong.

Diabetes affects approximately one in 19 people in the world today, one of the primary health concerns of our age. Those who live with the malady often struggle to control the blood sugar levels in the bodies, imbalances of which often lead to issues with many of the bodies vital organs including the eyes, kidneys, and heart.

To date blood sugar levels are measured most often with a blood sample, requiring those with diabetes to often prick their skin several times a day. Such discomfort and disruption often mean that diabetics don’t check their blood sugar levels as often as they should, and when they do such tests can sometimes delvier widly fluctuating results.

What the world of diabetes needs, Google explains, is a reliable around-the-clock monitoring system that requires little or no effort on the part of the patient, some sort of technology that is both innocuous and effective: Enter the contact lens.

The technology itself would measure the glucose levels of a person’s tears, offering a constant monitoring system that would mitigate spikes in one’s blood sugar levels by offering multiple readings—likely one per second—that would give the patient a better overall picture of their levels, allowing them to respond in an appropriate manner sooner, thus promoting better overall health.

While still in its infancy Google is touting this project as a pioneer into integrated technological health solutions, the only problem is, this path is well-trodden. Other companies have been working on smart contact lens projects for some time now, most notably Microsoft, who’s research arm developed a similar project in 2011 in collaboration with someone who now works for Google. Further, while not diabetes solutions, company’s like Sensimed Triggerfish, for example, have developed smart contact lenses to help personalize treatment for gluacoma patients, while Sweden’s Malmo University has already developed its own smart lens that is powered by tears.

That said, who started these projects first is really irrelevant, its who mass markets them first that really counts, and given that this is but the first in a long line of body-measuring technologies we’ll likely see from the search engine giant, my money would reluctantly be on Google.

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