Smart Contact Lens & Smartphones join hands for Future Tech

Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and electronics is playing a vital role. Electronics is in fact becoming ubiquitous in every walk of life. In the last two decades, the impact of electronics on industrial and consumer applications has been so enormous that it has taken the world to a different level altogether. After transforming regular phones to Smart phones, television to smart TVs, and homes to smart homes, electronics have now begun transforming more minute products – contact lenses to smart contact lenses.

A processor, a wireless RF unit, multiple LEDs, transistors, and various sensors integrated within a tiny lens that would fit the cornea of one’s eye – that’s what electronics is doing to create smart contact lens. Industry leaders today are jostling to launch smart contact lenses in the market. Here’s what’s in store for you in the coming years:

Johnson & Johnson adds blink tech talk for Smartphones

Fig 3 of patent US9014639 illustrates a wireless communication between a rechargeable smart contact lens and a smart phone.

Fig 3 of patent US9014639 illustrates a wireless communication between a rechargeable smart contact lens and a smart phone.

Johnson & Johnson vision care is a prominent player in manufacturing contact lenses. Johnson & Johnson vision care owns more than 1,000 patents and/or patent applications in the contact lenses space. The company has marked its shift towards smart contact lenses with a patent US 9,014,639 that was awarded in April 2015. This technology allows a smart contact lens to be paired with a smartphone.

The patented technology states that whenever an event occurs in the smartphone, such as reaching a specific biomarker level, energization level, pH level, a visual recognition of a particular object, an incoming call, etc., the smartphone wirelessly communicates the information to the smart contact lens. The smart contact lens then notifies the user regarding the event by producing a visible light or generating a small vibration. The response from the user is associated with specific blink patterns.

Google to power healthcare through eyes

In 2014, Google announced that it will foray into manufacturing smart contact lenses. Google holds about 200 patents and/or patent applications in this technology field. However, most of these patents relate to medical aspects. Patent applications US 8989834 B2 and US 8909311 B2, for instance, disclose a smart contact lens that measures vital parameters such as the eye’s hydration level, blood alcohol, blood oxygen or glucose level. These lenses can be powered by a solar power source or a capacitor and can wirelessly communicate with the user’s smart device such as smartphone, personal digital assistant or a laptop. This technology has been explicitly discussed in an earlier blog Google Presents Solar Powered Contact Lens.

Sony stays true to motion picture

Sony is not a major player in this space; however, it owns about 100 IP assets in contact lens technology. One of its interesting IP assets is patent application US 20160097940 that describes a smart contact lens technology, which can capture images and record videos as the user moves the eye!

An image capture control unit performs operations in accordance with blinking of an eyelid. Once recorded, the smart contact lens saves the captured images and recorded videos in an integrated storage unit for later viewing. The user can also transmit the captured images or videos to a personal smart device via wireless communication.

The image capture control unit includes features such as autofocus, automatic exposure adjustment, aperture stop adjustment, and zooming.

Fig 1 of patent application US20160097940 illustrating an example of an appearance configuration of a contact lens.

Fig 1 of patent application US20160097940 illustrating an example of an appearance configuration of a contact lens.

A similar technology was showcased in Tom Cruise’s 2011 movie Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol (MI 4). It starred a smart contact lens that could capture images (upon blinking of an eyelid consecutively two times) of documents read by the user and transmit them to a remote printer. There’s more to this tech revealed in a blog Contact Lens that Zoom In with a Wink.

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Samsung faces rejection

Samsung has also forayed into this space with a patent application US 20160091737 that it filed in March 2016. It describes the inclusion of Augmented Reality features to display information to users, an RF unit to transmit and receive data from an external device, an in-built camera to capture images, a power source (supercapacitor), an eyeball motion sensor, etc.

However, most of the claims of in this patent application have been rejected under U.S.C. 35 103 (unpatentable obvious subject matter) against various patents and patent applications of Johnson & Johnson vision care and a September 2009 IEEE article “Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens”. Claim 1 is rejected under U.S.C. 35 112(b).

EP Global Communications & Apple to tie tech?

EP Global Communications is developing advance smart contact lens associated with Internet of Things. The user can play games or watch TV through augmented reality, or even operate a smart phone remotely using this tech, the company claims. The company has started filing patent applications in this space and has earned one patent grant US 9,459,469 for a technology titled “System for contact lens wireless communication”.

Rumors are rife that Apple is trying to strike a deal with EP Global Communications to develop smart contact lenses powered with augmented reality to connect with iOS devices.

No more Smartphones for Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go developer Niantic Labs plans to launch smart contact lenses with augmented reality features for live gaming. Pokémon Go smart contact lenses will allow players to set aside the mobile phone and instead use the lens to track down characters.

Smart contact lenses are drawing the threshold for an interesting tech era. With IoT coming soon, smart contact lenses are all set to complement the tech world by reducing our physical dependence on a mobile handset.

(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gabriel_Caste_Futuristic.jpg)

Vishal Kapoor
Vishal Kapoor

Vishal is a patent analyst with a flair for robotics, microcontrollers, microprocessors and FPGA. He enjoys astrophysics and assembling self-assigned electronics projects.


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