Google “glucose” right now, and you’ll find a slew of results with Google in the header. This is because Google is getting into a new market: Diabetes. The company has just revealed a new method for monitoring glucose, in a classically Google-clever way: Smart contact lenses with tiny glucose-tracking technology will monitor wearers’ glucose levels not by measuring the sugar in their blood, but by tracking it in their tears.
“It doesn’t look like much, but it was a crazy amount of work to get everything so very small,” said Google researcher Brian Otis in a statement. The research, by the company that’s also brought us Glass and driverless cars, was kept under wraps until yesterday.
The contact lenses will monitor glucose with a tiny sensor once per second, and then transmit the data through a wireless transmitter. According to Otis, the sensor is the smallest ever made, and took years of affixing tiny wires to tiny electronics to produce it.
“Smart” blood sugar monitoring has been in the works for many years, but no one has revealed a reliable fix for the problem. Some academic institutions have also been working on glucose-monitoring contacts, but as Otis says, “You can take it to a certain level in an academic setting, but at Google we were given the latitude to invest in this project.”
The electronics in the contacts lie on the periphery, so don’t obstruct the wearer’s vision. To power the lenses, developers designed a method of pulling energy from surrounding radio frequency waves. The company is testing the possibility of adding a tiny LED light to indicate when the wearer’s glucose exceeds a certain level.
The concept could be a game-changer, for sure, but the details still have to be worked out. Among them will be how to actually calculate blood sugar from tear sugar, and how the technology might be affected under various weather conditions and various emotional conditions.
“We’ve always said that we’d seek out projects that seem a bit speculative or strange,” according to the official Google Blog, “and at a time when the International Diabetes Federation (PDF) is declaring that the world is ‘losing the battle’ against diabetes, we thought this project was worth a shot.”
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