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Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Google Isn’t the Only One Putting Electronics into Contact Lenses

Google is working on electronics-laden contact lenses to monitor glucose levels for diabetics. Welcome to the club.

  • January 17, 2014

Google is developing contact lenses with embedded electronics that can track the levels of glucose in a person’s tears and transmit that data wirelessly to a nearby receiver, an official blog post by Babak Parviz, a leader of the Google Glass wearable computing project revealed Thursday. The device is intended to help diabetics track their glucose levels without drawing blood.

Eye electronics: This contact lens made in the secretive Google X labs is designed to help diabetics by transmitting a feed of the glucose levels in their tears to a nearby receiver.

Any detail on the activity of the secretive Google X laboratories is news, but this tidbit is not surprising to anyone that has followed Parviz’s career. We covered his work on contact lenses with electronics inside while he was a professor at the University of Washington back in 2008, where he even built one with 16 working LEDs embedded (see “How to Build a Bionic Eye”). Monitoring glucose levels was just one of several applications Parviz imagined for the technology at the time, along with providing a head-up display that could be used for augmented reality applications. That vision doesn’t seem so fanciful now that he’s working on the technology at Google, which is already slated to release its Google Glass wearable computer sometime this year. Parviz’s post about Google’s project indicates that his work on integrating LEDs into the lens also continues at Google.

Re/Code reports that Google’s glucose-sensing lens has been tested in people in a trial carried out in the Bay Area. The company’s blog post says that talks are underway with U.S. regulators:

“We’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype … We’re in discussions with the FDA, but there’s still a lot more work to do to turn this technology into a system that people can use.”

Another electronic contact lens design, by Swiss company Sensimed, has been tested on people. Several hospitals are trialing it to track pressure levels in a person’s eye over a 24-hour period to help manage glaucoma (see “Glaucoma Test in a Contact Lens”).

One drawback both the Sensimed and Google designs have in common is that they use conventional rigid and opaque wires and electronic components. Last year researchers in Korea, in a collaboration involving Samsung, integrated a working LED built from novel, transparent and flexible nanomaterials into an off-the-shelf contact lens (see “Contact Lens Computer”).

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