This time last month, Google announced that it was breaking ground on smart contact lenses. Is there anything they can’t do!?
The new innovation from the company that brought us self-driving cars, Google glass and more, is contact lenses with integrated sensors and circuitry, and it isn’t just for seeing. It’s for sensing. Confused yet? We’ve gathered up all the facts on this technology of the future to help you get accustomed to exactly what they’re making and how they will work.
Here’s what Google had to say about it:
“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. 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.”
And here’s our breakdown:
- Google X came up with the idea of contact lenses with embedded “chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair.” They hope this kind of innovation would help with certain health situations, like people with Diabetes who would love an alternative to pricking their finger everyday.
- They weren’t the first to think of this concept. For years, physicians and medical researchers have tried to think about ways to measure glucose through the fluid in the eye but struggled to decide how best to capture and analyze those tears. Companies such as EyeSense have even developed their own products to embed sensors in the eye to measure these levels, while companies like Freedom Meditech have explored measuring glucose levels through the eye by using light.
- The soft prototype contact lens house a sensor that measures the glucose levels in tears (!). A tiny pinhole in the lens lets tear fluid seep over the glucose monitor to get regular readings. Right now, it registers a level reading once every second.
- The lens also has a tiny antenna, capacitor and controller that allows the information gathered from the lens to move from the eye to a monitor where that data can be read and analyzed. It will draw its power from that device and communicate with it using a wireless technology known as RFID.
- While the lenses are in the earliest stages of development, Google is already in discussions with the FDA and are starting to look for partners to bring it to market.
- So what about the security of your health? Do you need to worry that your information will be “owned” by Google? “The data will never hit Google’s servers,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology. “That’s a forward-thinking affirmative claim that they’re making. That is important.”
- Given the sensitive nature of the data, Hall said, Google has also said it will make sure any data transferred from the lens cannot be manipulated — something that could have potentially fatal consequences if patients inject the wrong amount of insulin. Google has worked to build in safeguards against many problems, including a piece that is similar to a circuit breaker to prevent the lens from overheating.
- Hall does caution one thing, though. “One thing I do worry about is mobile security itself. It is a miasma, and the app that’s developed to use with this is probably going to be made by someone else,” he said. “Whoever is making that app will have to answer those questions. But they haven’t been answered yet because we haven’t gotten that far down the line.”
Care2 members, what do you think about this latest innovation from Google? Tell us in the comments below.