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Thanks to new research, smart contact lenses could be just around the corner

Flexible contact lenses capable of measuring glucose levels in your tears are well and truly into the testing stage.

Aside form potentially helping diabetics to adjust their insulin levels, the developments open a myriad of applications that seemed exclusive to sci-fi until now.

For the last 4 years, tech giants like Samsung, Google and Apple have been working on prototypes of smart contact lenses that track glucose levels or even detect cancer.

But so far, the electronics embedded in the lenses make them either too rigid or too opaque. The first experiments were deemed too uncomfortable for wearers and their the glucose measurements unreliable.

Furthermore, the glucose sensor enzyme used to measure sugar levels contains a reactive compound that could cause damage to the eye.

Recently, researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of science and technology in South Korea have addressed some of these problems, taking the technology one step closer to reality.

The latest designs by research lead Jijun Ulsan and his team included two tiny devices (an antenna and a rectifier) able to capture radio-frequency signals from nearby transmitters.

The idea is to capture these frequencies and turn them into small amounts of electricity capable of charging the glucose sensor and minuscule green LED embedded in the lens.

The little thing blinks terminator-style, yet it doesn’t interfere with the wearer’s vision. If this sensor registers elevated levels of glucose, the LED turns off, signalling to the user that they need to adjust their insulin levels.

So far, rabbits wearing these improved lenses didn’t show any adverse reactions, and the readings of the sensors seem accurate.

To David Walt, a diagnostic expert at Harvard University’s Wyss institute in Boston, the combination of flexible electronics and the novel LED “certainly is noteworthy”, although he is prudent in stating he doesn’t think smart contacts will be showing up on pharmacy shelves anytime soon.

As materials improve in their flexibility, resistance and transparency, the contacts will inevitably enter human testing stage, incorporating other uses beyond glucose testing. And when that time comes, Skynet will have won.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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