Google has unveiled its plans for a new type of "smart contact lens" intended to help people with diabetes keep track of their fluctuating glucose levels in a passive way, instead of requiring a painful pin-prick several times a day.
The lens is said to contain "chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter" and an antenna "thinner than a human hair" in order to detect and then warn users of low or high glucose levels, allowing them to take action.
The project is part of Google's X research and development labs for unusual and ambitious ideas, which last year introduced the Project Loon internet balloon project for remote areas.
Normally, diabetes sufferers would either have to wear glucose monitors and prick themselves with a pin multiple times per day in order to check their glucose levels, which left unchecked can cause long-term damage to the eyes, kidneys and heart, Google X co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz said in a blog post.
"It's disruptive, and it's painful," they continued. "And, as a result, many people with diabetes check their blood glucose less often than they should."
Google's device is said to be built to take glucose readings once per second, with tiny electronic components embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. Additionally, the idea of adding tiny LEDs to the lenses has been mooted, giving users a warning as soon as action is required to bring glucose levels back to normal.
Google says it is "in discussions" with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which controls medical products in the US, and the pair asked for partners to help with the development. "We're not going to do this alone: we plan to look for partners who are experts in bringing products like this to market," they said.
"It's still early days for this technology, but we've completed multiple clinical research studies, which are helping to refine our prototype," they continued. "We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease."
Other contact lenses featuring similar technology have been considered before, including a Microsoft Research-backed project from 2011.