Life through a smart contact lens: From glucose detectors to AR displays

Google, Samsung and Sony have set their sights on smartening up the eye
Life through a smart contact lens

Wrists, feet, ears, on the chest. Wearables are invading every inch of our bodies and they're not done yet, our eyes are next. Google Glass and the rest of the smartglasses gang have already been trying to connect our eyes, but it's the smart contact lens that could really make us feel like we've stepped into a sci-fi world.

We might still be in the early days of this wearable tech category, but it's certainly on its way and some of the biggest names in tech are already thinking about ways to connect the eye.

Read this: What's in store for Google Glass 2.0?

From the projects that are just a few years away from becoming the real deal to the outlandish future concepts, these are most exciting visions of smart contact lenses we've seen yet.

It's happening

Google's glucose detecting contact lens

Unsurprisingly, Google's decision to smarten up the eye has grabbed the most headlines. Born out of the company's Google X spin-off lab (now named Verily), these smart lenses use miniature sensors and a radio antenna thinner than a human hair to track a wearer's blood glucose levels. This would make it especially useful for diabetics letting them use an app on their smartphone to monitor glucose levels in real time. Google struck a deal with drug maker Novartis in July 2014 to make them a reality with human test set to happen in this year.

Triggerfish wants to tackle glaucoma

Joining Google is Sensimed, a Swiss startup that has been given the thumbs up by the FDA (US Food and Drugs Administration) to start producing its connected contact lens. Designed to battle glaucoma, a common cause for blindness, the soft silicone lens has a built in microsensor that can measure pressure changes in the eye and send the data to an adhesive antenna worn around the eye. The ability to identify when pressure elevates can aid doctors to prevent further damage. They've also been designed so you can even wear the smart lenses when you go to bed.

Maybe one day…

Sony wants you to take a photo with a blink of the eye

Google isn't alone in wanting to take the contact lens and pack it with tech. A patent (image above) that recently surfaced suggests Sony has its sights on a connected lenses that has the ability to snap photos simply by blinking an eye.

It will apparently use a smartphone to tell the lenses when to take the photo and can send the photo wirelessly to a computer, phone or tablet. These lenses will have the ability to zoom in and out, focus and even adjust aperture.

There's a display too letting you view images after they're taken. Now that's a lot of tech fit into a small place.

Google's solar powered contact lens

We haven't even seen the glucose detecting ones yet, but Google is already looking to the future after a patent emerged suggesting it could use solar cells to run on external light sources.

The smart contact lens would be used to track the wearer's temperature or blood alcohol levels, as well as allergens in the air and processing visual images such as price tags. It is designed to then send this information to another device such as a smartphone.

As for charging, solar cells and a photodetector could turn light from ambient sunlight, overhead bulbs and even camera flashes into energy to at least partly power the electronics in the lens.


Samsung to bring AR to the eye

With the financial clout that the Korean company has to play with, it's no surprise it wants to get in on the smart lens action too. A patent filing from South Korea suggests it has plans for a connected contact lens that can beam images straight onto the retina.

Dubbed the Samsung Gear Blink, it'll apparently host a display, camera, and sensors to control the various feature using blinks and an antenna, presumably to maintain a link to a connected smartphone.

The lens can then fire digital images onto your eye, for the ultimate augmented reality experience, and even record your surroundings, like a super-sneaky terminator.

Behind the lens

Yes, Google doesn't just want to put tech on your eye, it wants to go one step further and inject the tech directly into the eyeball.

The patent for the electronic lens was filed in 2014 and describes "an electronic lens that can be controlled to control the overall optical power of the device."

It's designed to improve poor vision but even manages to find room to include storage, sensors, a battery and radio components. The internal battery will draw power from what the patent refers to as an "energy harvesting antenna". We know, it sounds creepy and surely won't end well.

2 Comments

  • yogibimbi says:

    From my last attempt at wearing a lens that ended with the damn thing breaking in two and being lodged somewhere between my eyeball and the lid and me trying to get it out for about one hour I feel that glasses might be a better solution. Especially if you don't want to have a computer in your brain at all times (anatomically, the eyes are part of the brain), which might be not such a good idea if you want to be sure that the things you are seeing are not a figment of your technologically augmented imagination. Decades of developing contact lenses still have not made them a competitor to glasses in terms of ease of use. What is to say that some tech companies can achieve that in a matter of years?
    It has taken traditional watchmakers to get into the market to deliver halfway useful watches where all the tech giants so far have failed, so, a bit more eating of humble pie on behalf of the tekkies might be in order this time around.

  • JeffPinkham says:

    Got to get some

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