On Thursday Google announced on their blog that they were working on a smart contact lens and like many I was very excited to hear this with visions of a Terminator style HUD Heads Up Display – Google Glass, The Third Generation.
It turned out to be something both more realistic and that might have a bigger impact on a wider number of people in the short term but that does not actually preclude the idea of the HUD. The lenses are designed to help diabetics. If you have diabetes you are always concerned and worried about your blood sugar or glucose levels. Levels getting to high or too low mean symptoms from feeling light headed up to damage to organs, unconsciousness or death.
The best way to test your blood glucose is with a skin prick to make yourself bleed – its painful and needs to be done multiple times a day and as a result many sufferers simply do not do it as often as they should. Clinicians have been looking for a simpler way to test glucose for years and have come up with a system that embeds a chip under the skin, but it is less reliable than testing blood. They have also long known that tears can be tested for glucose but there has never been a efficient way to collect them.
Google’s new contact lens measures the glucose in your eye’s fluid whilst in the eye and has a tiny wireless antenna to communicate with a smart phone. They are also adding LEDs into the lens to light up when your levels get too high or too low. They are still early in development and probably years from market, but they do have a working lens and have completed multiple clinical studies.
So what does this announcement mean? Well in the next few years when the have the kinks worked out of the design, have passed all of the regulation involved in medical devices and have the price to a reasonable level it is going to be huge change for diabetics. A reliable, pain free way to know when your levels are too high or too low could make a huge change in a lot of peoples lives and could potentially save some lives as well.
Further down the line the implications and possibilities are potentially huge. The prototype Google has right now can communicate wirelessly with your phone and display LEDs in your vision. That is a long way from a full Heads Up Display but it is a step along that road. Even with this early prototype there are obvious possibilities for notifications and monitoring – in effect treating the contact lens as a tiny very low resolution screen. It may be too early to get excited about this but in the long run this announcement may be seen as the pebble that signified the start of the avalanche.