In a not-too-distant version of a future invented by Google, it may be considered normal to see cars that pilot themselves while drivers wave their arms wildly for direction and blink madly at things no one else can see.
The US Patent and Trademark Office has published a pile of Google patent applications describing a contact lens with embedded microchips that operate a microcamera, chemical sensors that detect changes in the makeup of tears, interfaces that would allow the contacts to connect with Android devices or smart cars, and command protocol that would let users tell the contacts what to do using a pattern of blinks.
On March 21 the USPTO published Google's application for a system to get smart contact lenses to talk to off-board computer systems in much the same way as its Google Glass smart visor, according to the site PatentBolt, which highlighted the rush of connected lens-related applications from Google.
Google's contact lens patents hint at a healthcare product, but there's clearly more to it than meets the eye. (Source: Google/via PatentBolt.com)
Wearables are growing so quickly they have stopped being an alternative form factor, at least from the perspective of chip and systems manufacturers, among which wearables have become the hot market to pursue right now, according to an April 15 report from the Institute for Information Industry, a government-funded pro-industry organization responsible for promoting the development of Taiwan's high-tech industries.
The global market for wearables is still in its earliest stages, but will still reach $6 billion this year, and grow to as much as $20.6 billion by 2018. Wearables are a "new market extremely suitable for investment," according to the report.
IDC is similarly optimistic, predicting 19 million wearable devices will ship this year -- three times as many as in 2013. IDC predicted wearable sales would grow 78.4% by 2018 to a total of 112 million units.
Most of those wearables will be fitness trackers, watches, or even smart wigs, but some companies are pushing the limits with form factors far less traditional than simply shrinking a tablet down to fit on a wrist.
Google is going smaller -- a lot smaller, with a contact lens smart enough to take pictures, connect with smartphones, monitor blood glucose, and act as guidance for the blind.
Google initially described its smart contact lens primarily as a therapeutic tool for diabetics and others with chronic illnesses, when it announced the project in January.
A contact lens able to monitor blood glucose continually through its constant exposure to tears would be far less intrusive and possibly more reliable than embedded blood-glucose monitors or frequent finger-prick-tests.
Google's more recent plans for contacts are a lot more advanced.
Collectively, the patent applications make clear Google’s eyeball ambitions go beyond health monitoring. If they ever work, Google smart contacts could become the ubiquitous, invisible interface that connects the mundane world humans see with their own eyes and reality as augmented by Google.