Touted as a potential method of correcting poor vision, Google has filed a patent for an electronic lens implanted directly into a human eye.
The process starts by drilling a hole in the lens capsule, a membrane that protects the eyeball’s natural lens, using a laser. Ultrasonic vibrations then shatter the natural lens, enabling the pieces to be suctioned away. Following the removal of the natural lens, the electronic replacement is injected within fluid that solidifies into silicone hydrogel — the same material used to make soft contact lenses. The implant, now bonded with the lens capsule, is capable of adjusting shape as needed to properly focus light, thereby correcting poor vision.
Tentative components within the implant include storage, sensors, and a radio battery. The artificial lens is powered wirelessly using an “energy harvesting antenna,” which is connected to an external device to compile and assist in the processing of information.
The “Google Glass” developer also filed a patent application in 2014 for Google Contact Lens, designed to monitor glucose levels of the wearer. At the time of the company’s announcement, Google X team leader Brian Otis elaborated on the project:
We’re now testing a smart contact lens that’s built to measure 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. It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease.
The lenses, which include “an antenna thinner than a human hair,” have the potential to help patients micro-manage complicated health issues, such as diabetes or glaucoma. Numbering over 3 million in the U.S. alone, glaucoma-sufferers are constantly at risk of high eye pressure causing irreversible blindness. Wearing smart contact lenses could introduce a continuous reading of data necessary for adjusting treatments.
The smart contact lenses are still in development under Verily, a subsidy of Google’s new Life Sciences division that focuses on, according to the company’s website, “bringing together technology and life sciences to uncover new truths about health and disease.” At the helm of Verily is Andrew Jason Conrad, who invented the company’s smart lenses. Preceeding Verily, Conrad, who holds a PhD in Cell Biology from University of California in Los Angeles, served as the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Laboratory Corporation of America.
To be clear, just because a patent is filed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will make it to manufacturing. But with a host of companies, including Google, Sony, Samsung, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, continuing to develop the necessary technology, we may see some of these crazy patented ideas actually come to fruition in the near future.