Contact lenses have been helping people see without the aid of glasses since 1888. In that time, the contact lens hasn't changed all that much. The century old tech is in for a big overhaul in the coming years, however, thanks to Google.
Mashable is reporting that Google has been granted two patents for its "smart contact lenses." The contact lenses will be outfitted with a variety of sensors and circuits that would allow the wearer to monitor a variety of information. It's able to do this through sensors that monitor the material that make up our tears.
Human tear fluid contains a variety of inorganic electrolytes (e.g., Ca.sup.2+, Mg.sup.2+, Cl.sup.-), organic solutes (e.g., glucose, lactate, etc.), proteins, and lipids. A contact lens with one or more sensors that can measure one or more of these components provides a convenient non-invasive platform to diagnose or monitor health related problems. An example is a glucose sensing contact lens that can potentially be used for diabetic patients to monitor and control their blood glucose level.
That sounds cool and all, but how would this actually work? Sensors and circuits need power to work and people aren't exactly looking forward to shoving batteries into their eyes. That's where the technical wizardry at Google comes in:
The ophthalmic sensing platform can be powered via radiated energy harvested at the sensing platform. Power can be provided by light energizing photovoltaic cells included on the sensing platform. Additionally or alternatively, power can be provided by radio frequency energy harvested from the antenna. A rectifier and/or regulator can be incorporated with the control electronics to generate a stable DC voltage to power the sensing platform from the harvested energy.
In other words, the contact lenses can be powered through naturally occurring radiation. In its absence, the lens would then be powered by energy transmitted to small antennae embedded in the lens itself. Either way, it's probably harmless.
While not exactly descriptive, Google did share an image of what the contact lens might look like. You will notice that it has two rings of sensors that loop around the entire lenses. One would assume that these circuits would blend in with a person's eye, but we can also hope that the lens will make the person look like they just came out of Tron:
Perhaps the most amazing part about all of this is that Google is already looking into ways to mount cameras onto these contact lenses. While the primary goal for now is to help monitor health conditions, it's not too far out of the realm of possibility to assume that we may see some Google Glass-like tech show up in the company's contact lenses. That's still a ways off, however, as Google still hasn't even received FDA approval to start using the device on humans.
If you want to know more about Google's contact lenses, check out this Solve for X talk from 2012 in which Babak Parviz talks about developing microsystems for the eye: