Google’s latest ‘moonshot’ product is one you'll have to see to believe.
The company unveiled a prototype for a smart contact lens that monitors glucose levels in tears—a huge boon for the world’s 382 million diabetics (a number that could reach beyond 590 million by 2035, according to the International Diabetes Federation) who currently test their own blood glucose levels up to ten times a day with finger pricks.
The smart lens, which Google cautions will take at least five years to reach the consumer market, uses a tiny glucose sensor with a wireless transmitter. The nano-electronics in the lens don't interfere with vision as they are placed outside the eye's pupil and iris. It’s the smallest wireless glucose sensor ever made.
The project's co-founders, Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, joined Google X about 18 months ago. “The beautiful thing is we're leveraging all of the innovation in the semiconductor industry that was aimed at making cellphones smaller and more powerful,” Otis said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “It doesn't look like much, but it was a crazy amount of work to get everything so very small.”
The device looks like a regular contact lens, but contains two glitter-specks loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturized transistors, ringed with a hair-thin antenna.
Renub Research analyst’s projections for the glucose monitoring devices market is $16 billion by the end of 2014. In a move uncharacteristic of Google, the company is looking for partners to develop the smart lens for the consumer market, and is thus publicizing the work done so far in hopes of drawing the attention of potential partners.
“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,” Otis and Parviz wrote in a post on Google's blog. “These partners will use our technology for a smart contact lens and develop apps that would make the measurements available to the wearer and their doctor.”
Microsoft was actually the first to back Parviz's project in 2011 while he worked on the idea while attending the University of Seattle. But it was Google who hired Parviz to continue the work on smart lenses—as well as Google Glass. Swiss company Sensimed is also working on a similar lens, called Triggerfish, which has been tested on patients in conjunction with several hospitals to monitor pressure levels in the eye over a 24-hour period to help manage glaucoma, the second most common cause of blindness.
The clandestine Google X lab has so far given us a driverless car, Google Glass and Project Loon. “We’ve always said that we’d seek out projects that seem a bit speculative or strange, and at a time when the International Diabetes Federation is declaring that the world is 'losing the battle' against diabetes, we thought this project was worth a shot,” Otis and Parviz said.
It turns out Google's 'moonshots' aren't as far-fetched as one would seem.