In an early episode of the outstanding sitcom Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford (played by the similarly outstanding Aziz Ansari) drunkenly lists his best business ideas, including “contact lenses that display text messages.” Thanks to Netflix, I’ve watched that episode more times than anyone should, but I’ve always thought it’s just a matter of time until somebody actually made it happen.
Today, after encountering a Wall Street Journal article reporting that Novartis and Google are set "to work on smart contact lenses," I thought that time had come. I was wrong, though.
The aim of the Google/Novartis project is a smart contact lens that is actually smarter than a Google Glass-esque contact lens would be. The smart lenses are designed to monitor blood sugar levels and help correct the wearer's vision. Judging by the Wall Street Journal article, the glucose measurement capabilities appear to be the chief benefit of the smart contact lens.
The smart lenses contain a tiny sensor that relays data on glucose contained in tears via an equally tiny antenna. In a news release earlier this year, Google described the electronics in the lenses as being "so small they look like bits of glitter" and said the antenna is thinner than human hair.
Monitoring glucose levels through the lenses could prove to be easier and more comprehensive than current techniques, which generally require diabetics to prick their fingers for droplets of blood.
As for its impact on the wearer’s vision, Novatis CEO Joe Jimenez told the Journal that the technology would affect eyesight similarly to how autofocus lenses improve digital cameras. The article doesn't provide much more detail on that front, however.
Google first showcased the lenses back in January, and likely made the official announcement this week to capitalize on the momentum it created with the announcement of Google Fit, a suite of wearable and health-related products, at last month’s I/O developer conference.
I've been pretty upfront with my criticism about most consumer wearable technology, but I've always agreed that it has a real future in the healthcare field. And although Google’s smart contact lens doesn't actually make Tom Haverford's business idea a reality, I guess this is a pretty good use of the technology too.