Using technology first implemented on Google Glass, the company is expanding its portfolio of wearable projects by filing a patent to equip contact lenses with small cameras that could someday aid visually impaired people.
Approximately 285 million people worldwide suffer from poor vision according to the World Health Organization.
Most people who are not candidates for eye surgery wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, the latter increasingly preferred by many for comfort and aesthetic reasons.
Google is aware of this advantage, but is looking to transform a normal contact lens from just being able to correct refractive errors and provide clearer vision into something more like an interactive assistive wearable device that can help the visually impaired.
Through tiny cameras and sensors on its surface, the smart lens can recognize faces, monitor objects, detect movement and process stimuli from a person's immediate surroundings.
The lens can connect with a smartphone that will in turn sound off an alert to warn a blind person of an obstacle or potential danger like incoming traffic in a busy intersection.
Alternatively, it can also be installed with a warning light emitting diode (LED).
“The analysis component of the contact lens can process the raw image data of the camera to determine processed image data indicating the blind person is approaching intersection with a crosswalk and establish that there is a car approaching the intersection,"
The lens can be controlled by "unique blinking patterns" explains the report.
Its wearer can snap a picture of something just by looking at it and blinking, instead of issuing voice commands like using Google Glass. Moreover, the embedded components will be positioned in such a way as not to obstruct normal vision.
This particular patent may help the blind, but Google had previously unveiled its smart contact lens project specifically for diabetics.
In a blog post earlier this year, Google said sensors in its contact lens can read glucose levels in tears. The same sensor technology referred to in that project may be further developed by Google this time to aid the visually impaired.
The technology may also help those who have normal vision by allowing them to magnify an image just by blinking. One can visually zoom in and out like a telescope, similar to a technology developed by researchers at the University of California San Diego.
Google's smart contact lens patent is based on a theoretical model that may not be turned into a real product for some time. The filing also does not mention any health risk the components may pose for wearers of the contact lenses. Certain materials can cause allergic reactions or eye injury. But safety matters may be given more importance in future patents or during the prototype stage.
Like many others, Google is stockpiling patents with one intent being to develop camera and sensor technology for wearables.
Google has been cross-applying its know-how across different wearables from Google Glass and now into smart contact lenses. It plans to connect these devices to its popular Android smartphone operating system to make it more viable to consumers.
The company also just made Google Glass available to the public in the U.S. for a one-day sale, further increasing the hype around these gadgets.
However, some consumers remain wary of wearables that can invade privacy. Gadgets like Google Glass which are capable of recording video or taking pictures in more private settings can upset people.
Yet, wearables can gain more acceptance in the medical field because they have the potential to help people, like in the case of Google, such groups like diabetics and the visually impaired.