Google (NSDQ:GOOG) is hoping to forge some new partnerships to support its newly unveiled smart contact lens, which is laden with sensors and transmitters that aim to help diabetics monitor their blood glucose levels.
The lens, still in early stages of development, features microchips and glucose sensors "so small they look like bits of glitter" and a transmitting antenna thinner than a human hair. The prototype, which has undergone some preliminary testing for comfort, functionality and reliability, can read glucose levels once per second.
The company built the lens from scratch, developing new chips and sensors and transmitters small enough to sit on the eye.
"We got rid of all the unnecessary components and shrunk only the most important ones onto a really tiny chip. To do this, we had to completely redesign them – and in some cases, build entirely new tools to make the components," according to materials Google’s "[X]" lab sent to MassDevice.com. "Then, instead of mounting the components on a typical fiberglass circuit board, we mounted them on a very thin, flexible, plastic-like film."
The microchip and glucose sensor are embedded between 2 soft layers of contact lens material with a tiny opening that allows tears to seep through. Researchers have theorized that tears may represent a reliable measure of blood glucose levels, posing a potential alternative to the multiple daily finger-prick blood tests that diabetics must perform to manage their insulin intake, but development poses several practical challenges.
"It’s extremely hard to study tear fluid in its natural state. It’s only available in very small quantities, and it’s difficult to collect without disrupting the eye’s natural state (imagine plucking a nose hair and then sticking a piece of paper in your eye)," Google said. "We wondered if miniaturized electronics – think chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair – might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy. We hope a tiny, super sensitive glucose sensor embedded in a contact lens could be the first step in showing how to measure glucose through tears, which in the past has only been theoretically possible."
The project belongs to Google’s stealthy [X] laboratory, which is also responsible for the company’s Google Glasses and self-driving cars. The lenses were the brainchild of Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, who had been collaborators at the University of Washington. Otis had previously published papers on contact lenses with sensors that can measure blood glucose and other biomarkers, raising speculation of such a project when his name appeared on the FDA’s public schedule alongside other Google insiders.
The technology giant hasn’t disclosed what came out of those FDA talks, but has said that it’s not looking to bring its smart lens to market on its own. Google plans "to look for expert partners who can bring this technology to market," according to a company statement.