Imagine wearing a contact lens that can zoom in, take photos, and record video footage with the blink of an eye. What about wearing a contact lens that can help with certain eye conditions like glaucoma or monitor glucose levels for people with diabetes? Believe it or not, that’s precisely what some of the world’s leading scientists and technological giants are currently working on.
What are smart contact lenses?
Smart contact lenses are a new breed of lens, still in development, that can do much more than improve vision. One of the first companies to branch out into smart lens technology was Microsoft. In 2011, the company collaborated on a research project with the University of Washington to design a contact lens with a sensor that was able to monitor the glucose levels of the person wearing it.1 The technology was aimed at helping people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar levels without the need for a finger-prick test.
In 2014, Google unveiled a similar technology, although their project was stopped in 2018 due to inconsistencies in the measurement of glucose levels found in tears.2 Samsung have been granted a patent to develop a contact lens capable of recording video and controlling the wearer’s phone.3
Ghent University have also developed technology that will allow text to be projected onto a contact lens. So in the future, smart contact lens wearers might be able to read text messages from their phones directly across the eyes.3
What technology will smart contact lenses have?
Technologies are still being developed for smart contact lenses. Prototypes so far have included different types of sensors, microelectronics, and types of wireless transmissions. You can probably imagine how tiny these components need to be to fit into a contact lens and not obstruct vision or irritate the eye.
How could smart contact lenses help eye health?
It’s possible that smart contact lenses could help manage the five most common eye conditions in the future: cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and retinal detachment.
We already know that smart contact lenses can monitor the physiological information of tear and eye fluid to provide medical diagnostics. They already offer a non-invasive way to monitor glucose and can even capture spontaneous changes in the eyes to help doctors treat glaucoma.4
What’s the future of smart contact lenses?
The global smart contact lenses market is expected to reach USD 2,860.50 million by 2025 while seeing a significant compound annual growth rate of 49.6% from 2019-2025.4 These figures indicate that research and development will continue to progress in the smart contact lens space.
There are several challenges that pharmaceutical and tech giants face in the meantime. For starters, smart contact lenses will need to be thin enough to fit over the eye comfortably. One challenge is making sure that the tiny sensors and microelectronics contained within will supply enough power to make them work effectively.5
Then there’s the challenge of reliability. For example, when used for health purposes, smart contact lenses must be able to relay reliable information to help doctors with diagnosis and to improve treatments for patients.
Finally, privacy is a significant concern from the prospect of video recording capabilities.
All of these challenges (and more) will need to be addressed before smart contact lenses become widely available. For now, although traditional contact lenses can’t do all the incredible things that smart contact lenses promise, they’re still great for helping you see clearly. View our range of contact lenses here.
1 Lardinois, F. (2014). Google’s new smart contact lens is old news for Microsoft. Tech Crunch. [Online]. Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2014/01/16/googles-new-smart-contact-is-old-news-for-microsoft/ [Accessed 17 Dec 2019].
2 BBC News. (2018). Google halts glucose-sensing contact lens project. BBC News. [Online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-46262520 [Accessed 17 Dec 2019].
3 Bernal, N. (2019). Samsung patents ‘smart’ contact lenses that record video and let you control your phone just by blinking. The Telegraph. [Online]. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2019/08/06/samsung-patents-smart-contact-lenses-record-video-let-control/ [Accessed 17 Dec 2019].
4 Globe Newswire. (2019). Smart Contact Lenses: Technological advancements in wearable devices transforming the market. Globe Newswire. [Online]. Available at: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/05/21/1833263/0/en/Smart-Contact-Lenses-Technological-advancements-in-wearable-devices-transforming-the-market.html [Accessed 17 Dec 2019].
5 Barrettino, D. (2017). Smart Contact Lenses and Eye Implants Will Give Doctors Medical Insights. Spectrum. [Online]. Available at: https://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/devices/smart-contact-lenses-and-eye-implants-will-give-doctors-medical-insights [Accessed 17 Dec 2019].