Google has unveiled a ‘smart contact lens’ that that monitors glucose levels in tears, designed to help diabetics avoid having to prick their fingers to draw blood as many as 10 times a day.
The contact lens has been developed by Google at its secretive X lab during the past 18 months, but is not likely to make it to market for another 5 years.
The device looks like a normal contact lens, but inside is a tiny glucose sensor and wireless transmitter. Sandwiched in the lens are two glitter-specks loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturised transistors, while the lens is ringed with a hair-thin antenna. Vision is not obscured because the embedded electronics are outside the eye’s pupil and iris.
There are around 400 million diabetics worldwide that currently have to monitor their blood sugar and tweak their insulin dose to keep their levels under control, or face potentially dangerous complications. The new device aims to avoid this uncomfortable and inconvenient procedure.
Shrinking the parts to such a small size was a major task, according to Brian Otis, one of the lead researchers.
“We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second,” Otis said. “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.”
Research began several years ago at the University of Washington, and other medical devices are being designed elsewhere.
Google is now looking for partners with experience bringing similar products to market. It declined to say how many people worked on the project, or how much has been invested in it.
It will take at least another five years before the lens can reach the market.