Google contact lens will monitor blood glucose, help diabetics

NEW DELHI: The crazy engineers inside Google X are hard at work. And this time they have come up with a contact lens that will measure the glucose level of a person in real time. The product is still in early stage of development. For now Google is testing prototypes and how they can be best used. But if successful, this contact lens may help diabetics say goodbye to painful needles that they have to use several times a day to successfully monitor their blood glucose level.

In a blog post explaining the contact lens, Google said that glucose level in a human body can be measured from tears. "But as you can imagine, tears are hard to collect and study. At Google X, we wondered if miniaturised electronics—think: (silicon) chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair—might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy," the blog post explained.

Google X is special division inside the web company that works on future technologies. It is headed by Google co-founder Sergei Brin.Google Glass, which is essentially a small computer with a tiny head-mounted display, also came out of Google X. Glass too started as a prototype but last year it was sold to early adopters. It is likely to be widely available in retail stores this year.

For now, Google has not shared any details on the availability of the contact lens. "We're in discussions with the FDA (the US government that regulates health products), but there's still a lot more work to do to turn this technology into a system that people can use," said a Google spokesperson. The company hinted that this glucose-monitoring contact lens, whenever it comes to the market, will likely sold by "partners who are experts in bringing products like this to market".

The current prototype of the contact lens can record the glucose level every second. "The product measures glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. We're testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. 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," explained the official blog post.

While it started as a web search engine and still makes most of its money from displaying web advertisements, in the recent years Google has become very ambitious, arguably the most ambitious technology company. It is working on several technologies that are straight out of future. The company is developing driverless cars, which use sensors, cameras and virtual map technologies, to travel on roads without any assistance from humans.

Google is also stepping up its game in robotics and in the last one year has acquired several companies, including Boston Dynamics which makes robotic cheetah and dogs, that are working on next-generation of robots. Recently, it acquired Nest, maker of a smart internet-connected thermostat, most likely in a bid to explore the concept of web-connected homes and appliances that would be controlled with a smartphone.

A few months earlier, Google CEO Larry Page said in an interview that his company was looking to fundamentally change the world. "We have all this money, we have all these people, why aren't we doing more stuff? I feel like there are all these opportunities in the world to use technology to make people's lives better. At Google we're attacking maybe 0.1 percent of that space. And all the tech companies combined are only at like 1 percent. That means there's 99 per cent virgin territory. If you're not doing some things that are crazy, then you're doing the wrong things," said Page.

However, the growing reach of Google is making consumers and industry watchers uncomfortable. Recently, when the company acquired Nest, which can collect a lot of data on how you use appliances inside your home and can sense whether you are in your room or not, it led to a lot of outrage on social media sites. There were reports that some Nest consumers decided to stop using the thermostat over privacy concerns.

On Friday Danny Sullivan, who has watched Google since late 1990s, tweeted, "Google smart contacts also mean if you wondered if there was area Google wouldn't go into, stop. It has no limits."

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