With Google Glass already a reality, perhaps it was only a matter of time before the next logical leap: smart contact lenses.
But the as-yet unnamed lenses being developed in the top-secret Google X laboratory aren't intended to show you restaurant deals, videos or directions to the nearest bowling alley. The lenses are designed with the more serious purpose of helping detect and prevent diabetes.
Using a tiny wireless chip working with a miniaturized glucose sensor embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material, the prototype can generate the wearer's glucose reading from tears an astonishingly fast once per second, a much better testing method than pricking a finger.
"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," wrote project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, on Google's official blog Friday.
The pair noted that diabetes, which affects one in every 19 people on the planet, leaves many struggling to manage the disease as they juggle blood sugar testing with their daily routines. "Uncontrolled blood sugar puts people at risk for a range of dangerous complications, some short-term and others longer term, including damage to the eyes, kidneys and heart," they said.
The technology must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is still in its early planning stages with no time frame for release to the public. But the researchers said multiple clinical trials have helped refine the prototype.
The announcement comes just days after Google announced it was purchasing Nest Labs, which makes smart thermostats and smoke alarms, indicating that the hugely profitable company is branching out in many different directions.
Technology analyst Jeff Kagan told us that Google has an entire division that focuses on this kind of innovation. "Not all of them come to the market, but they are all very high on the wow factor," he said
Kagan said we may not yet be living in the era of "Six Million Dollar Man" cyborgs, but things we never dreamed possible when that show ran on ABC in the 1970s are now being realized.
"We actually have cyborgs running around mixing in with a population every day and it's no big deal today," Kagan said. "We have seen artificial arms and legs, artificial hearts and lungs and all sorts of wonderful innovation. This is just the next step in treating an illness called diabetes. And it sure looks like Google wants to be a big player in that medical and healthcare space."
Particularly exciting, he said, because "Google transforms every industry it touches. And it looks like they want to transform healthcare going forward now, too."