11
Sep
09

Eye sensors might contribute to health awareness

There’s an article from the IEEE Spectrum about how engineers at the University of Washington are in the early stages of making contact lenses that might eventually project “enhanced reality” onto our visual field. The idea is to overlay what we see out in the world with data or supplemental information. The usual example is the data that the Terminator (that’s Governor Terminator these days) could see when he was calculating how to blow a bunch of people away in the movies.

Research model of visual  augmentation lens

Research model of visual augmentation lens

Envisioned uses with less of a sci-fi bent include enabling pictures, graphs, and navigation cues to be in our field of vision. Think also about advertising and video games. The current devices are pretty crude (sort of optometry from Hell), but rapid advances are expected with semi-transparent circuits and LEDs.

But what I find most interesting is a use that appears to be secondary at this point: building sensors into the lenses to track biomarkers. In other words, contact lenses could be part of a body monitoring system. Babak Parviz, the article’s author and nanobiotechnology expert at U Washington, says:

Besides visual enhancement, noninvasive monitoring of the wearer’s biomarkers and health indicators could be a huge future market. We’ve built several simple sensors that can detect the concentration of a molecule, such as glucose. Sensors built onto lenses would let diabetic wearers keep tabs on blood-sugar levels without needing to prick a finger.

Since our ordinary senses aren’t much good at judging the level things in our blood like glucose, we’re forced to extract blood and test it to learn many things. But suppose our senses could be augmented with engineered devices? Perhaps we could have much more comprehensive, real-time information about a variety of health factors. Would that not give us a more integrated and perhaps fairly natural “sense” about what’s really going on both in the present and over time? Seems like it would be a huge aid to living with diabetes and keeping an eye on other conditions.

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