Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) said Monday it will collaborate with Novartis AG (VTX:NOVN) on a new model of smart contact lenses that monitor blood sugar levels and could even correct impaired vision.
This is the latest project unveiled by Google X, the development team behind its Web-connected eyewear, Google Glass. There has been a growing trend of products developed by tech companies looking to tap the lucrative healthcare and fitness market. The Mountain View, California, company unveiled its smart lens technology in January. Financial details of the Novartis partnership weren't disclosed.
Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez told the Wall Street Journal that wearable technology, like smart lenses, could make it easier for people to keep tabs on their health. “This will be a very important growth area in the future,” Jimenez said, adding that smart lens technology could become a “large revenue stream” for the company.
An estimated 382 million people, or 1 out of every 19, around the world struggle with diabetes, in which the body is unable to process sugar because of inadequate or no production of insulin. Nearly 30 million Americans, or 9.3 percent of the population, live with the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Google's smart lenses contain a small sensor that relays data on glucose found in tears via a tiny antenna thinner than human hair as often as once a second. Currently, most diabetics prick their fingers for droplets of blood to test their sugar levels.
Google's smart lenses are part of a growing trend of technology companies developing wearable technology and software products aimed at uses in the healthcare industry. Last month, Google unveiled its Google Fit platform to track health statistics, such as sleep and exercise. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) also unveiled a similar product called HealthKit.
Analysts said Novartis made perfect sense as a partner for Google's smart lense technology because it owns Alcon, which has a huge presence in the eyecare market. Jimenez said Google's smart lenses may also be used to correct vision, similar to the way lenses operate on autofocus cameras. Novartis said it hopes to have a prototype ready by early 2015.
Earlier reports have suggested that Google got its smart lens idea from Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT), which began researching a similar project in 2011 with Babak Parviz, who then moved to the Google X team, presumably bringing some iteration of the idea with him. Parviz announced over the weekend that he’s now a member of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), so consumers may see some overlap between recent Google ideas and future Amazon announcements.