By Brian Womack
Google Inc. is diversifying into contacts lenses — smart ones.
The Mountain View, California-based company said in a blog post yesterday that it’s testing an ocular device that’s designed to measure glucose levels in tears, as the company pursues long-term projects at its secretive X Lab research group. The lenses use a tiny wireless chip and glucose sensor to provide readings once per second, project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz wrote in the post.
Google is expanding beyond its core search-engine business by investing in new technologies that can lead to new business opportunities, including the Google Glass devices, driverless cars and high-altitude air balloons to provide wireless Internet access. The contact lenses could address the challenges of diabetes, including the process of getting readings from blood, the company said in the post.
“It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype,” Otis and Parviz wrote. “We’ve always said that we’d seek out projects that seem a bit speculative or strange.”
Bloomberg News reported last week that Otis and Google employees with connections to the X Lab had met with Food and Drug Administration officials who regulate eye devices and diagnostics for heart conditions.
Otis is on leave to Google from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he is an associate professor in the electrical engineering department, according to the university’s website. Otis has worked on biosensors and holds a patent that involves a wireless powered contact lens with a biosensor.
Parviz was involved in the Google Glass project and has talked about putting displays on contact lenses, including lenses that monitor wearers’ health.
In 2012, the two were among the co-authors in a paper titled “Glucose Sensor for Wireless Contact-Lens Tear Glucose Monitoring” for the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits.
Google said in the post that it’s in discussions with the FDA and will need to do more work to make the lenses a viable product. The company said it plans to look for partners to bring devices like these to market.
The lenses may be able to act as an early warning system for wearers, Otis and Parviz said in the post. Tiny LED lights could be integrated to light up if glucose levels significantly deviate from certain thresholds, they added.
The company declined to comment beyond the post or make anyone available for interviews.
Google is committed to making bets on research and development even if they don’t deliver significant profits and revenue, Chief Executive Officer Larry Page has said.
“Our main job is to figure out how to obviously invest more to achieve greater outcomes for the world, for the company,” Page said during a call with analysts last July. “And I think those opportunities are clearly there.”