One Step Closer to Smart Lenses

On Oct 13, Google received a patent for a transparent, wearable, sensor-embedded contact lens device.

The lens would be the first of its kind, equipped with photoreceptors and solar cells designed to harvest energy from external light sources such as sunlight or camera flashes.

Google has suggested that the device would also be capable of detecting potentially “hazardous materials” and allergens in the environment. Any threatening substance perceived could then be communicated to computers or to mobile devices.

The patent itself does not necessarily imply that the lens is ready to be prototyped and built for mass-market.

As a Google spokesperson told TIME, “We hold patents on a variety of ideas–some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents.”

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to refrain from speculating about the possible implications of Google’s new patent, especially when it comes on the heels of two years’ worth of announcements regarding the company’s research into related technologies.

In Jan 2014, Google unveiled a smart contact lens designed to monitor blood-sugar levels for people who suffer from diabetes. The lens uses a microchip and a radio antenna thinner than a human hair to analyze tears, providing a welcome alternative to the common glucose-monitoring practice of finger-pricking.

One of the greatest benefits afforded by wearable technology is the opportunity for patients to manage their own health with unprecedented accuracy and autonomy. For example, data tracked by sensors embedded in Google’s contact lenses could be transmitted to an app on the patient’s smartphone, providing valuable feedback about his or her state of health in real time.

Other applications may eventually include gaming and innovations in virtual reality, as well as advances in focus-related treatment for the visually impaired.

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