MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS SF) — Google takes a giant step forward in bringing its smart contact lens technology to the masses by partnering with a Swiss pharmaceutical company that plans to use the lens to improve vision and monitor health conditions.
Novartis’ Alcon said Tuesday it plans to work with the secretive Google X lab to commercialize the smart lens by using non-invasive sensors and microchips to monitor the insulin levels for people with diabetes and to correct the eye’s natural focus for people who need glasses to read.
The announcement of the partnership comes after Google announced meeting with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials who oversee medical devices.
One of the most innovative features being tested is the lens’ ability to measure glucose levels in tears by using a tiny sensor embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material then pairing it with a wireless transmitter to help the world’s 382 million diabetics who need to keep a close watch on their blood sugar.
The technology is also testing out features to help people with presbyopia, a condition in which the eye loses its ability to autofocus making it difficult to see objects up close. The smart lens could correct vision by restoring the eye’s autofocus capability.
“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help the quality of life for millions of people,” Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, said in a statement Tuesday.
“We are looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez. “This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye.”
The contact lenses were developed over the past two years in the clandestine Google X lab that also came up with a driverless car, Google’s Web-surfing eyeglasses and Project Loon, a network of large balloons designed to beam the Internet to unwired places.
The smart lens prototypes are expected next year with the product likely to be on the shelf in the next five years.