Google has been making inroads into the optical industry, most recently through a partnership with famed designer Diane von Furstenberg, who is designing stylish Google Glasses in cooperation with Marchon and its parent company, VSP Global.

But another Google technology, “smart lens,” may ultimately have a more profound impact on our industry. Last month’s announcement by Alcon that it has licensed smart lens technology from Google[x], a team within Google that is devoted to finding new solutions to big global problems, is exciting news for contact lens and intraocular lens wearers.

Under the agreement, Google[x] and Alcon will collaborate to develop a smart lens that has the potential to address ocular conditions. The smart lens technology involves non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics which are embedded within contact lenses. Novartis said its interest in this technology is currently focused in two areas:

• Helping diabetic patients manage their disease by providing a continuous, minimally invasive measurement of the body’s glucose levels via a “smart contact lens,” which is designed to measure tear fluid in the eye and connects wirelessly with a mobile device.

• 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.

If Alcon succeeds in either of these areas—and there is no reason to believe it will not—the resulting products will have major health benefits for diabetics and huge vision benefits for presbyopes. It will be interesting to see how these products ultimately develop, how Alcon markets them, and how quickly consumers embrace them. Unlike Glass though, smart contact lenses and IOLs won’t have to overcome the behavioral, social and fashion issues that Glass is facing. That’s the advantage of technology that’s worn in the body rather than on it.

Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology