Developers at the Google X lab announced on Friday they are testing a smart contact lens that's built to measure glucose levels in tears, which would be a boon for people with diabetes and for the growing sector of health-focused wearable devices.
Diabetes affects one in every 19 people globally. Those diagnosed have to prick their skin constantly to check their blood sugar levels, in order to keep from becoming dizzy and to prevent the condition from damaging the heart, kidneys and eyes. Google's smart contact lens builds on years of attempts by scientists to measure tears for glucose levels to avoid the inconvenience of constant blood testing, according to a blog post from Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, co-founders of the project at Google.
"We're testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second," the statement 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."
The lens uses "chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter" embedded between soft contact material, and the prototype already has been the subject of clinical research studies, the statement said. The project's founders also said they are in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration.
"There's still a lot more work to do to turn this technology into a system that people can use," the statement said. "We're not going to do this alone: We plan to look for partners who are experts in bringing products like this to market. 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."
This product test follows up on the release of Google Glass to developers in 2013, and shows the extent of the company's interest in wearable technology. It also could perhaps signal that Google is ahead of Apple in the race to build a next generation smart watch that consumers will view as a must-have device.