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Google to make smart contact lenses a reality with Novartis partnership

If you thought Google Glass was weird, stop reading this article right now. Google has just announced a partnership with Swiss drug company Novartis in order to develop and market a range of "smart contact lenses" designed to improve your vision and monitor your health. This is the latest step in Google's ambition to create smaller and less obtrusive wearable technology.

Google X, a semi-secret facility in Mountain View run by Google will be working with Novartis' eye care division, Alcon. This secretive wing of Google is dedicated to making major technological advancements, and has been involved in many of Google's so-called "moonshot" projects like Google Glass and driverless cars.

Alcon currently develops surgical, pharmaceutical and vision care products designed to improve eyesight and eye care across the world.

In January, Google unveiled a smart contact lens that helped diabetics by measuring glucose levels in tears and wirelessly transmitting them. The chip and sensor are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material, and stay out of the iris and pupil so as not to distort vision. A pinhole in the lens allows tear fluid from the surface of the eye to seep into the glucose sensor, which can measure glucose levels once a second.

But that's not where the technology is going to stop. According to a patent application disclosed back in April, Google envisions a camera-enhanced smart contact lens that is controlled by the wearer's eye movements.

These "image capture components" could be integrated on or in the contacts, Patent Bolt first reported, allowing the lens to process image data and perform functions locally or via a remote device.

Essentially, the technology could allow users to gaze over a scene, capturing image data along the way, which can then be retouched and shared on a tablet or smartphone.

According to Patent Bolt, the image data can be processed to detect light, colors, patterns, objects, faces, motion, and other information, all the while never obstructing your pupil's vision. Just as researchers are testing the Glass headset's usability among folks with disabilities, Google has high hopes for its futuristic contacts to assist those with visual impairments.

"Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturisation of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people," said Google co-founder Sergey Brin. "We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true."

Jeff George, division head of Alcon, said that the two companies were a good match, and could make a real difference to the lives of millions.

"By combining Alcon's leadership in eye care and expertise in contact lenses and intraocular lenses with Google's innovative 'smart lens' technology and groundbreaking speed in research, we aim to unlock a new frontier to jointly address the unmet medical needs of millions of eye care patients around the world," he said.