The Eyes Have It: Google[X] Opens Our Eyes To The Future Of Smart Contact Lenses As A Platform


Most of us, when thinking of wearables, have a hard time envisioning anything other than smart watches, activity trackers, and Google glass. The notion of something like an ingestible or skin tattoos creating actionable insights from our bodies to make our lives better or healthier are far beyond the purview of the mass market today. And of course, those that could address some of the mass chronic diseases of today probably seem that much more remote.

At IAT, we’ve been following closely some of the more “moonshot” like developments at the intersection of health and wearables, and Google [x]’s smart contact lens program continues in the tradition of self-driving cars, flying wind turbines, and balloon-powered internet services.  If you haven’t been following, in 2011, while at the University of Washington, Babak Parviz and Brian Otis prototyped a contact lens that monitored blood glucose levels. Building on that, last week’s unveiling held the promise that with tiny chips, sensors, and antennas, measuring and transmitting data on blood glucose through tears could be done with unprecedented accuracy (To be fair, there are many other approaches to this problem that amazing researchers around the world are currently working on, wearables that attack the glucose problem through measuring sweat, saliva, or interstitial tissue).

Much of what has been written since last week’s announcement of the smart contact lens project, has focused on the project and its potential use and impact on diabetes, specifically continuous monitoring and control of blood glucose levels in new, non-disruptive (and less painful) ways. But diabetes is just one disease, albeit a massive one, that could be attacked with this approach, for this is a team, and ambition, that has been thinking broadly about vital signs and MEMS sensors longer than most. And they are not alone. With Google’s backing and ambition, we soon may find new approaches to to predict, diagnose, and treat a host of chronic diseases that plague our world today.   According to Parviz, “The true promise of this research is not just the actual system we end up making, whether it’s a display, a biosensor, or both. We already see a future in which the humble contact lens becomes a real platform, like the iPhone is today, with lots of developers contributing their ideas and inventions. As far as we’re concerned, the possibilities extend as far as the eye can see, and beyond.”

With Google’s commitment to tackle the world’s biggest problems, we soon may find new approaches to to predict, diagnose, and treat a host of chronic diseases that plague our world today along with applications most could never imagine. As they say, “the eyes have it”.


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