Google makes first contact lens

Google makes its first contact lenses

First contact from Google.

Search engine giant Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has always had a Cyclopean-like focus on high-tech research. All research related to the human eye or vision is a particular favorite of the company. Bloggers over the years have regaled us with spellbinding accounts of autonomous automobiles, fashion crimes on frames of glass, and balloons broadcasting Wi-Fi from clear skies above. All fanciful stories of technology brought to Earth from the rarefied aerie of Google's secretive research facility.

But bloggers are also gifted with second sight. The latest visions are of "smart contact lenses" embedded with tiny microchips to monitor diabetics' glucose levels. Yet one blurry question remains: Are these visions the full truth or hyped-up fiction?

In IT Blogwatch, bloggers are clearly focused on contact lenses.

Filling in for our humble blogwatcher Richi Jennings, is a humbler Stephen Glasskeys.

 

Sharon Gaudin sets forth the grand vision:

Moving beyond Glass, Google is working on a smart contact lens that would use tiny chips, sensors and antennas to continuously test diabetics' blood sugar levels and make it easier for them to stay healthy.

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Google, which said the technology is still in its early phases, is testing prototypes of the lenses and is in discussions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about them.

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This may seem like a strange project for Google, a company [that makes]...money on being the world's dominant search engine. Google [is also] developing Google Glass, a computerized set of eyeglasses.

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"I believe this project fits into Google's the long-term strategy," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "This type of 'in-eye' technology is the pre-cursor to having Google Glass directly in our eyes. To many, this is fascinating and inspiring. To others it is creepy and scary."  MORE

 

But Caleb Garling has an entirely different view:

On Thursday Google released a blog post describing the company's involvement in a contact lens that would measure blood glucose levels.

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But this wasn't news. [Basically] the same blog post from Microsoft [was written] about two years ago with Babak Parviz, who is on the Google project now, involved with the same exact idea. [In a] 2011 article from The Economist [about] companies working on smart contact lenses...Parviz [is] also mentioned. Parviz himself [wrote] in IEEE Spectrum about planting glucose sensors in contact lenses [in] 2009.

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Yet to read the tone of stories out there, with a couple exceptions, you’d think Google had just solved the problem.

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Sure, anyone would bet on Google doing it over Microsoft. But oftentimes Google's big ideas have that Hyperloop-ish smell: a future-fantastic idea that's mostly introduced to build brand, when the actual effort — internal Google love and money — behind the initiative is completely unknown.  MORE

 

Straight from the mouth of the googly-eyed horse:

We're now testing a smart contact lens that's built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless [chip and sensor] that are embedded between two layers of...lens material. 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...to indicate that glucose levels have crossed...thresholds. It's still early days for this technology, but...[research studies] are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease.

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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. We're not going to do this alone: we plan to look for partners who are experts in bringing products like this to market.  MORE

 

Brent Rose looks through rose colored contacts:

A late-breaking surprise just came out of the Google camp with the revelation that it's going to start making smart contact lenses. ... But it might not be what you're hoping for. It isn't the next generation of heads-up display (a Google Glass people would willingly wear in public), rather, it's for sensing.

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So, over the years, science has been investigating different ways to monitor glucose besides blood, and one of the most promising-looking targets is tears. ... So, Google X, the team that has brought us self-driving cars, Glass, and other "moonshot" projects, came up with the idea of a contact lens with embedded [chips and sensors].

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You have to wonder where this could go from here. ... The kind of metrics you could get from an eyeball would be very interesting, though. ... Still, though, until they can build a display into them that gives us truly integrated augmented reality, our geek-urges will never be satisfied. That's okay though, because this is a very cool first step.  MORE

 

From a pantopticon, Frederic Lardinois sees all:

Google today announced its smart contact lens project, but it's not the first by a long shot (or even a moon shot). Other companies have long been working on smart lenses — including Microsoft Research, which unveiled a similar project in 2011 in collaboration with someone who now works for Google X.

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Babak Parvis used to be a professor at the University of Washington, where he collaborated with Microsoft Research. He was of the first to work on smart contact lenses. Today, he is at Google and working on Google Glass and the smart lens project.

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It's also worth noting that...smart contact lenses [are] on the market today. They don't measure glucose, but the Sensimed Triggerfish, for example, is a disposable contact lens that uses a sensor to...personalize treatment for glaucoma patients. This technology has been available in Europe since 2010 [but hasn't received] FDA approval to sell it in the U.S. yet.

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There is also a team at Sweden's Malmo University that has developed a lens similar to Google's and which uses a fuel cell that runs on tears. Other researchers in the U.S. and elsewhere have been working on similar projects, too.  MORE

 

While Ron Amadeo focuses on technical details:

This isn't a joke. Google just introduced a smart contact lens.

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If you're wondering how power works, one of Praviz's previous projects was a contact lens with a working LED. ... The copper circle around the edge of this lens is most likely an inductive charging coil, so actual use of this will probably require some kind of face-mounted charging antenna.  MORE

 

Meanwhile, Liz Gannes and James Temple hunch over microscopes:

The revelation that Google is creating smart contacts raises the obvious question of whether the technology could one day meld with...Google Glass. In other words: Could we one day see Google Glass sans the glass, with digital images superimposed in front of our pupils via contacts?

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Today, it's difficult to wear Google Glass without being noticed, and sometimes mocked. Placing a tiny wearable device on someone's eye could potentially be a lot more discreet, though some privacy advocates might see that as a downside.

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One of the key challenges of putting displays into contact lenses is that the eye can't normally focus on something that close. But Parviz made progress on that problem...working with researchers at Aalto University in Finland. They altered the contact to reduce the focal distance and demonstrated that the technology was safe.

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Parviz told the BBC at the time: "Our next goal is to incorporate some predetermined text in the contact lens."  MORE

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