Google is developing smart contact lenses that monitor blood sugar

by: Bogdan PetrovanJanuary 17, 2014

google smart lens

Google’s latest moonshot is a smart contact lens that diabetics can use to monitor their blood sugar levels.

Led by Google’s Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, the project envisions a painless, non-invasive, and accurate way for people suffering from diabetes to keep their blood sugar level under control. Currently, that involves painful and inconvenient blood tests that patients have to go through multiple times a day. One in every 19 people in the world suffers from diabetes today, and with our increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, that number is likely to go up in the future.

Google’s smart lens works by putting a minuscule sensor, a hair-thick antenna, and a chip the size of a piece of glitter between two contact lens layers. The sensor is in contact with the tears naturally found on the surface of the eye and can take readings of glucose levels once per second. The lens can communicate with an external device, and receives the power it needs wirelessly, storing it in a tiny capacitor.

For now, the technology is in an early stage, but Google hopes to add more functionality to the smart lens, including a warning system based on LEDs. The lens could incorporate a minute light that could flash to warn the user about changes in their blood sugar levels. According to Brian Otis talking to re/code, this could happen when the user closes their eyes, while in the rest of the time, the tech remains invisible.

google smart lens 2 re/code

They may appear to be a prop out of a sci-fi flick, but actually smart lenses are not a new concept. As TechCrunch notes, there are similar devices in development from other companies, such as the Sensimed Triggerfish, a smart lens designed to monitor changes in ocular pressure for glaucoma patients.

Google appears to have adopted the idea of Babak Parviz, who conducted research on a blood sugar monitoring lens when he was working as a professor at the University of Washington. In fact, Parviz collaborated with Microsoft Research for the project back in 2011, though it’s not clear what contributions, if any, Microsoft had in the development of the smart lens. Here’s a video showcasing Parviz’s work with Microsoft Research.

Why is Google developing a smart lens for diabetes patients? The Mountain View giant has a medical research subsidiary in Calico, but medical devices are a new foray for Google. However, this initial application may be a gateway for general use smart lenses. Babak Parviz was initially interested in putting displays into lenses, but his idea was met with skepticism in the past. Now that Google is in charge, no idea is too wild. The company already puts a virtual display in the field of view of Glass users, and in the future, smart lenses could provide a more personal computing experience.

For now, Google is working with partners to bring the first smart lenses to market and with the FDA to obtain all the needed approvals. The company has not provided a timeline for commercial release, but typically medical devices go through lengthy clinical trials and approval processes before they are green lighted for general use.

  • Shark Bait

    Wait, didn’t Google used to be a search engine?
    I forget…….

    • AbbyZFresh

      It’s called expanding into new markets. You can’t seriously think Google can immensely profit off of search forever. No company stays the same.

      Besides, Google has always been an experimental company. Search is simply most of their bread and butter come from.

      • Shark Bait

        I know , it was a joke! Google is doing lots of useful things with all their pile of cash. Unlike some companies

    • Al-Mothafar M. Al-Hasan

      Yeah, now search sugar in blood! why u wonder? :D

  • MasterMuffin



    • Christopher Lee Kerr

      Why do I care if the govt knows my blood sugar?

      • Jayfeather787

        Do you want it knowing your blood sugar? I may not be doing anything wrong (that you can prove :) but I am a private person, and believe that the govt has no business knowing my blood sugar.

        • Al-Mothafar M. Al-Hasan

          No one force you to use it lol!

          • Jayfeather787

            I guess not, but I was talking to Chris saying that other people may not like the govt knowing their blood sugar.

  • bobEveryman

    The light will flash red when taking a picture and uploading it to google+

    edit: but in all seriousness, anything that improves the monitoring of blood sugar for diabetics is a welcome change!

  • Jayfeather787

    This gets its energy wirelessly?! That is just too cool.

    • Christopher Lee Kerr

      No… There is no such thing as wireless energy… It’s called a capacitor.

      • Jayfeather787

        oh. I think I read it wrong.

      • RanRu

        Nexus 4, Lumia 920, 10 year old electric toothbrushes, etc.

        Power is wirelessly transferred to the capacitor to keep it charged (presumably from a nearby battery, perhaps mounted on another wearable device), and the lens runs off the the capacitor.

  • Shahid Khalil

    I hope it comes into mainstream soon.

  • Mystery

    No offence but their reasoning behind this is to make it easier for lazy people.
    It doesn’t take much effort to simply prick your finger and check what your blood sugar levels are. (I know as i’ve had to do it multiple times and it doesn’t take much effort. Note though i’m not diabetic, though i’ve had symptoms of Hypos, my sister and other family members are though.)

    All you need to make sure is you’ve got some hand sanitizer on you and your blood monitor and it’ll take 2 mins to do a blood sugar test.

    Not saying it’s a bad idea though, though it’ll be hassle for those not used to contacts.

    • Christopher Lee Kerr

      I think its better than pricking your finger and this fires it every second… Not every time you want to stab yourself to figure or what your blood sugar is.

    • damian

      How can you say it doesn’t take much effort to simply prick your finger & check your blood sugar. Try doing it 6 to 10 times a day for 20 years, instead of the multiple times you’ve had to do it. There is only one prick around here.

      • Android Developer

        I agree, but putting it on the eye seems really intrusive, plus you will need to replace them all the time (it’s still contact-lenses…).

        I think the best could be some kind of accessory (ring, necklace, bracelets,…), maybe even something that connects to your smartphone (BT or something similar) , to show you more information.
        Once it needs attention, instead of showing annoying things on your own eye, it can make sound and/or vibrate (even via your smartphone, to save battery on its own).

        if they can do it on contact-lenses, I think they can do it on any type of accessory, no?

        • The sensor needs to be in contact with a bodily fluid and tears is easily and continuously accessible.

          • Android Developer

            but it’s still annoying to put, especially for people who have a good eyesight…

            Of course, it’s much better than taking blood samples every now and then…

    • Ryan

      As a Diabetic I can verify that not wanting to prick your finger 6-10 times per day every day for the rest of your life does not make you lazy.