Google moves closer to selling smart contacts

It's signed a deal with Swiss company to develop and sell lenses that monitor diabetic levels

Google has taken a major step toward manufacturing and selling smart contact lenses by inking a deal with a Swiss company to develop and sell the wearable technology designed to monitor body functions.

Alcon, the eye care division of Novartis, a multinational pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland, announced today that it is working with Google X, the company's secretive research arm.

The smart contact lens uses tiny chips, sensors and antennas to test diabetics' blood sugar levels. (Image: Google)

The agreement between the two companies to work together will need anti-trust approval, Google said.

"Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people," said Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and head of Google X, which is behind the development of Glass and autonomous cars. "We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true."

In January, Google announced that scientists there were working on a smart contact lens that uses tiny chips, sensors and antennas to continuously test diabetics' blood sugar levels and make it easier for them to stay healthy.

The lens also corrects vision problems.

At the time, Google said the research was still in the early phases, adding ti was in discussions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to the company, the smart lenses are being engineered to measure glucose levels in a user's tears. The lenses are built with wireless chips and miniaturized glucose sensors that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material.

"You've probably heard that diabetes is a huge and growing problem, affecting one in every 19 people on the planet," Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, project co-founders at Google, wrote in a blog post earlier this year. "But you may not be familiar with the daily struggle that many people with diabetes face.... Uncontrolled blood sugar puts people at risk for a range of dangerous complications...including damage to the eyes, kidneys and heart."

Many diabetics check their blood sugar levels throughout the day using a finger stick, which can be painful and time consuming, dissuading them from doing it as often as they should.

A contact lens that does that automatically would address those issues.

"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 in a written statement. "This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye."

Neither company gave a timeframe for when the smart lenses would be available.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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