Google finds partner to produce 'smart' contact lenses for diabetics

An agreement between the Google[x] resesearch lab and pharmaceutical giant Novartis will license the technology for actual medical use for people with diabetes and other conditions.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Prototype for Google's contact lens that can measure glucose levels. Google

Google's contact-lens technology is one step closer to helping diabetics better manage their condition.

In a deal announced Tuesday, the Alcon eye care unit of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis will license the smart lens technology from the Google[x] research division. Under the agreement, Novartis and Google will team up to develop an actual smart lens to address certain medical problems.

The key goal behind the technology is to help people with diabetes. Currently, those with diabetes must prick their skin throughout the day to check their blood glucose levels, a task that can be time-consuming and painful. But without the constant monitoring of their blood glucose levels, diabetics can put themselves at risk with potential damage to the eyes, kidneys, and heart.

As a less invasive solution, Google's smart lens technology would continuously measure the tear fluid in the eye to track the glucose levels. Those readings would then be sent wirelessly to the user via a mobile device.

"We're now testing a smart contact lens that's built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material," project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz said in a blog post in January when the technology was announced. "We're testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second."

The lenses themselves are outfitted with tiny sensors and microchips. Google has said that the chips and sensors in the lens are "so small they look like bits of glitter," while the embedded antenna is "thinner than a human hair."

The smart lens technology could also be a boon to people with presbyopia, a condition in which the eye loses its ability to autofocus, rendering people unable to see objects up close. The smart lens tech could correct vision by trying to restore the eye's autofocus capability through a contact or intraocular lens.

Since unveiling the project in January, Google had been seeking partners to bring the smart lens to the consumer market.

"Alcon and Google have a deep and common passion for innovation," Alcon division head Jeff George said in a statement. "By combining Alcon's leadership in eye care and expertise in contact lenses and intraocular lenses with Google's innovative 'smart lens' technology and groundbreaking speed in research, we aim to unlock a new frontier to jointly address the unmet medical needs of millions of eye care patients around the world."