Talk about doing something in the blink of an eye.
Google wants to take that phrase to a new level as they test a “smart” contact lens that will measure glucose levels in your tears, using a tiny wireless chip and minuscule glucose sensor embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material.
Researchers in the stealthy Google(x) laboratories—the same brains who came up with a driverless car, Google Glass and Project Loon, a network of large balloons designed to beam the Internet to unwired places—developed the technology over the last 18 months. Google’s blog reports:
“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.”
If they can convince users it works comfortably, Google will likely have a huge market for the product. Diabetes affects “one in every 19 people on the planet,” according to Google’s Blog. Patients who struggle with managing glucose levels struggle are at risk for several dangerous complications with their eyes, kidneys and heart.
Still, putting anything electric in the eye might make some people squeamish. Saying the antenna is thinner than a human hair sounds great, but most people also know how irritating it can be to get even a single speck of dust in the eye.
If you haven’t used contact lenses to correct your vision, drawing blood several times a day might still sound like the preferred option. But contact lenses have been used as medical devices for hundreds of years; and with the introduction of soft lenses, companies have evolved the technology for dozens of new cosmetic and therapeutic options. The FDA says roughly 30 million Americans use corrective contact lenses.
Google will get a lot of attention for their new product, but they aren’t the only company to test this style of data-retrieval lens. Microsoft began research into smart contact lenses three years ago, CNET reports. The project co-founder Babak Parviz, previously worked on the contact-lens idea while at the University of Seattle, cooperating with Microsoft.
If the future choice for diabetic patient becomes: use this sensor-laden lens or continue to draw blood several times a day, Google might have a winner.
Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter.