We previously wrote an article about a new type of contact lens that had the ability to magnify objects 2.8 times. Engineered at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, the fine-tuned prototype boasted a 1.55mm-thick contact lens that featured a very thin reflective telescope that allowed the wearer to effortlessly zoom in and out at the wink of an eye. The main goal of the telescopic contact lens was to aid people with an age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a medical condition that usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina.
Now fast forward a year later and optical lens technology has stepped up its game. With Novartis Chief Joe Jimenez quoted saying that “The Google contact lens will be in humans this year!” It is no wonder that the endeavours of Google and healthcare specialist Novartis have been grabbing the headlines. Since partnering up with Google, Novartis has been busy developing a contact lens that focuses on the treatment of presbyopia, a long-sightedness illness caused by loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye. Typically occurring in middle and old age, the lens has been designed to help restore the eye’s natural autofocus.
With price yet to be established, Jimenez shared with Reuters that they will be pursuing a system under which customers would get the drug at a discount but then pay Novartis more if it cut the need for costly hospital visits. Following their signed agreement back in 2014, Novartis is now looking to run human trials this year (2016) and they hope that in “about five years to see the product on the market”.
Also in the works is a project based on two patents for smart contact lenses that Google currently own. Working with Novartis, they will be developing a contact lens that can read blood sugar levels in the tears of its wearer. Designed with flexible electronics and sensors the lenses will assist people with diabetes by measuring the glucose levels in their tears which then determines whether their blood sugar levels have fallen to fatal levels. On this new venture Google co-founder Sergey Brin shared at the time of the announcement that “Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturisation of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people.”
On the other end of the scale is Samsung. If the whispers are to believed, the tech giant is currently working on smart contact lens concept that will be able to project images directly into the user’s eye. Samsung is looking to offer an augmented reality view to its users through the smart contact lens with an inbuilt camera and sensitive sensors which can be controlled by just blinking. According to blog SamMobile, Samsung is going ahead with this plan of action because they want to develop an alternative to improve augmented reality experiences offered by other wearables.
With advances in Optical Lens Technologies looking promising, how can not applaud how the development has come a long way. For us, it is great to see technology companies usually driven by investing in entertainment products, playing such a positive role in the advancement of health. There is a world of possibilities when it comes to the power that wearables can have over the daily health struggles of an everyday individual. So in theory, yes it will be fabulously futuristic to be able to adorn the Samsung lens that will give me a Minority Report kind of existence, but honestly, if I am going to be putting anything into my eye, let it be because it will improve my health and quality of life rather than giving me the ability to take photos with the blink of an eye. So on that note, Google x Novartis carry on!
UPDATE November 2016: Novartis-Google are collaborating on 2 contact lens projects- glaucoma sensing lenses and autofocus lenses.