There's no doubt that Google is becoming a full-fledged hardware company, but the latest Google X project is a lot different that tablets and smartphones — the company just announced that it's building a "smart contact lens." However, it's not meant to be a miniaturized version of Glass — it's meant to help diabetes patients keep track of their glucose levels. Inside the lens is a miniaturized wireless chip and glucose monitor that will measure the glucose levels of the wearer's tears.
Google's hoping that it'll be a less painful and invasive way to monitor glucose levels than the typical method of pricking a finger and testing blood droplets multiple times a day. Ideally, the sensor would be able to generate a reading once per second, and Google wants it to act as an early warning device for when glucose levels start dropping — the company imagines putting a minuscule LED light in the lens that could indicate levels dropping above or below a set threshold.
It's not a new idea for co-creator Babek Parviz — back in 2009, Parviz showed Wired a connected contact lens meant to measure vital signs. And while this is new ground for Google, the idea of a connected contact lens for specifically measuring glucose levels isn't new — Microsoft and the University of Washington worked on a similar project back in 2011. Both Parviz and fellow co-founder Brian Otis were at the University of Washington and contributed to that project, as well.
Of course, this project is still a good ways off from being a reality — Google says its working with the FDA and is also looking for other partners who are "experts in bringing products like this to market." The company wants partners to use its technology to develop these lenses and also build apps to make the measurements available to users. There's no word on when this lens might be a reality, or even if it'll work as planned, but it's good to see Google using its engineering prowess to try and solve a long-standing medical problem.
Via Ellen H Ullman, MSW