When Google bought Boston Dynamics (the eighth robotics company acquired by Google in the past six months) a while back, I half-joked about their run for world domination. I’m pretty sure I no longer find that funny. Last week Google jumped into the home appliance market by snatching up Nest Laboratories, a company known for making smart appliances, particularly a smart thermostat. Then Google announced that it’s making a smart contact lens. I guess Google glass is just too bulky, and now Google wants itself right in your eye.
It’s easy to be skeptical, if not downright cynical, about Google’s projects and their seemingly endless reach. But to be fair, it doesn’t seem that their smart contact lens is all about infiltrating consumers’ lives and harvesting information — well, at least, not information to be used for nefarious corporate purposes. Instead, Google’s X lab is trying to find a way to help diabetics measure their glucose levels without having to stick themselves with a needle multiple times a day.
Tears give an accurate indication of someone’s glucose levels, but crying on demand multiple times a day can be tough, so doctors and patients generally don’t rely on tears for the measurements. But a smart contact lens can solve that problem. The prototypes Google’s X lab is testing contain two incredibly thin lens layers that sandwich a wireless chip and a glucose sensor that can take readings by the second, despite it being so small that it looks like “glitter.”
Google is currently working with the FDA, developers, and marketing experts to bring the project to fruition and make it publicly available. They’re also working on the apps that will transmit information from the glucose readings to the patients and their doctors. Eventually, Google wants to add an LED light function that will let the wearer know when their levels of glucose get dangerously low or high.
Just as Google attempted before to enter the home appliance market, others such as Microsoft have attempted to make contact lenses that transmit information to its wearer. But just as Google wasn’t deterred in the smart appliance arena, it’s not deterred here, either. And while there are certainly other medical devices that communicate with doctors and patients, I do have to wonder what other information smart contact lenses could gather. With tiny cameras, they could literally see through the wearer’s eyes, which would provide an almost infinite amount of marketing information. At some point they could perhaps someday even harvest information about the inner workings of someone’s brain.
While Google Glass has moved the corporation’s technology onto one’s head, I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be having it in my eye, especially after the recent news that cybercriminals have begun to hack smart appliances and turn them into malicious devices. When the Google contact lens starts turning people into Terminators, then we know we’re screwed.