Wearable Tech World Feature Article
July 17, 2014

Google Moves Closer to Development of Smart Contact Lens

Google is actively pursuing the development of a smart contact lens, announcing this week that the company will partner with pharmaceutical giant Novartis to produce prototypes within the year. No terms of the deal were disclosed.

“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help the quality of life for millions of people,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, in a statement about the partnership.

Google announced its plans to develop smart contact lenses in January 2014, aiming to create a wearable tech product that can monitor insulin levels in diabetic patients or improve vision for people who need reading glasses. According to the companies, Novartis’s Alcon unit and Google’s Google X division will work together to develop smart lenses with non-invasive sensors, microchips and embedded miniaturized electronics.

“Some of our biggest health-care issues that we will face over the next 10 years are going to be solved by bringing together high technology with biology,” said Joe Jimenez, Novartis chief executive officer. “More and more health issues will be addressed in a non-traditional approach like this.”

The partnership seems like a win-win situation for both companies, which will be able to build on Google X’s expertise in wearable technology while taking advantage of the Alcon team’s experience in eye care.

“The promise here is the holy grail of vision care, to be able to replicate the natural functioning of the eye,” Jimenez explained in an article for Bloomberg. “Think about a contact lens that could help the eye autofocus on that newspaper and then when you look up it would autofocus in the distance.”

Indeed, Novatis has experimented for years with a lens that would replicate the function of the eye, according to Jimenez. The companies expect to get the first prototypes by early next year and may start marketing the products in about five years. Novartis will be responsible for the marketing and commercialization of the products, and both companies will benefit financially.

For people with diabetes, wearable tech holds the promise of improving their health and quality of life by making it easier to monitor and control the disease.

“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,” explained Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, the Google project co-founders, in a company blog article about the product. “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.”

Edited by Alisen Downey

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