Novartis CEO comments, new patent shed light on Google's contact lens projects

By Jonah Comstock
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Google contact lensGoogle and Novartis are working on two smart contact lenses, and news broke this week about both of them: A new patent application sheds light on how Google might power its glucose-sensing contact lens, just a week after partner Novartis told a Swiss newspaper it was on track for human trials in 2016 of an autofocus lens for presbyopia patients.

Patent applications don't always presage exactly what a product will look like, as they are crafted to cover a broad range of possibilities. For instance, in addition to glucose sensing, Google's patent leaves the door open for external-facing sensors in the contact lens for things like temperature and air quality.

But perhaps most interesting is a suggestion of how the smart contact lens will be powered -- something that a number of experts were curious about when the lens was first announced. Apparently an external device will power the sensor, and it could be handheld or embedded into a companion wearable.

"An external reader device or 'reader' can radiate radio frequency radiation to power the sensor," the patent application says. "The reader may thereby control the operation of the sensing platform by controlling the supply of power to the sensing platform. In some examples, the reader can operate to intermittently interrogate the sensing platform to provide a reading by radiating sufficient radiation to power the sensing platform to obtain a measurement and communicate the result. The reader can also store the sensor results communicated by the sensing platform. In this way, the reader can acquire a series of analyte concentration measurements over time without continuously powering the sensing platform."

The reader could also be built into "a pair of eyeglasses, jewelry (e.g., earrings, necklace), headband, head cover such as a hat or cap, earpiece, [or] other clothing" so that it could continually power the lens, the document explains later on.

Earlier this summer, Tech Times reported on another patent that suggests the company is already thinking about packaging for the contact lens.

"The eye-mountable device is mounted on the pedestal such that the posterior concave side contacts the second end of the pedestal and the eye-mountable device is elevated from the base of the container," the patent application says. "The opening of the container can be sealed by a lidstock."

According to a Reuters report that comes by way of Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Novartis and Google plan to start testing their smart contact lens for people with presbyopia (not the more widely known glucose-sense contact lens) in humans in 2016.

The presbyopia lens, which was something of a footnote in the original Google contact lens announcement, now seems like it could be ready to launch first. The lens could help restore the eye's natural autofocus, according to Novartis.

"For people living with presbyopia who can no longer read without glasses, the ‘smart lens’ has the potential to provide accommodative vision correction to help restore the eye’s natural autofocus on near objects in the form of an accommodative contact lens or intraocular lens as part of the refractive cataract treatment,” they said in a statement last year.

The contact lens is one of the biggest projects under Google's Life Sciences group, which recently graduated Google X to become an independent subsidiary of Alphabet. It's new name under Alphabet hasn't yet been announced, but the company has taken a number of steps recently to put diabetes in the forefront of its work, including partnerships with Dexcom and Sanofi.