We reported two years ago that Google contact lenses were likely on the way, after Glass was unveiled, and finding that one of the engineers had previously given a talk discussing such devices.
Now, Google has actually announced smart contact lenses. It's not what you think though. It's not the contact lens version of Google Glass. At least not yet.
Google's contact lenses have to do with health - specifically keeping glucose levels under control for diabetics.
"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," write Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, the project's co-founders (Parviz being the engineer mentioned above). "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."
"We’re now testing a smart contact lens that’s built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material," the two explain. "We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. We’re also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we’re exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds. It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease."
Google did not even bring up Google Glass in the announcement, but that's not to say the technologies couldn't merge in the future. Who's to say they're not already working on it? First of all, watch Parviz's presentation. He's clearly thinking bigger with contact lenses, and he outlines some pretty incredible possibilities, which could make these things (and Glass, for that matter) a great deal more useful. My favorite example is the "super vision" idea.
Other concepts he discusses include: gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality, interfacing with mobile, night vision, and multi-focal electronic contact lenses.
There's a lot of potential with this technology, and now that Google actually has something to show off, even if it's still testing, it suggests that this kind of stuff may be closer than we thought. If you thought Glass turned people into cyborgs, wait for this stuff. Of course Google is buying up robotics companies left and right too, not to mention Nest, makers of smart home devices like thermostats and smoke alarms. Imagine if these things interfaced with Google contact lenses. Who knows what Google will let you do in the future? Wink to adjust your heat? Be alerted within your actual field of vision when there's a fire in your home?
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Right now, Google's contacts have a specific purpose, and it will have to prove their legitimacy there first. The company is currently in discussions with the FDA, and admits that there's still a lot more work to be done "to turn this technology into a system that people can use."
Google says it intends to look for partners to develop apps that would make measurements available to the wearer and to doctors. Perhaps they shut down Google Health too early.
Image via Google