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Brief Published: 7 Jan 2016

Biometric Health: Autofocus Contact Lenses


The first human tests of smart contact lenses that restore the eyes’ natural autofocus are set to begin this year. Developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis and Verily, the Life Sciences research division of Alphabet (Google’s parent holding company), the lenses are designed to restore the vision of people with presbyopia, a common form of age-related long-sightedness.

The soft contact lenses house a tiny chip, sensor and antenna that wirelessly communicate and charge via an external device and app. These will offer the wearer autofocus capabilities similar to those found in digital cameras, where visuals can be brought into tight focus, negating the need for continual, fixed prescriptions.

While focus has recently been on the widely publicised glucose-sensing contact lenses, the greater commercial opportunity now lies in corrective eyewear. Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez says “the market for the auto-focusing lens could be worth anything between $10-50bn in the next 10 years”. Several patents have been filed for the smart lenses – one of which includes a photodetector that could enable them to be charged via light sources.

Google is one of many entities working on smart biometric lenses with various capabilities, such as treating glaucoma, or enabling wearers to ‘feel’ objects. Canadian company Ocumetics is developing a Bionic Lens implant that could deliver clarity beyond 20/20 vision, while researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a graphene-based thermal sensor that could enable night-vision contacts.

Interest in integrated biometric tech continues to grow, enabling self-monitoring and medicating solutions, enhanced augmented visions of the world, and even the promise of super-human experiences. For more, see Wired Health, Seamless Tech: Smart Home & Away and Personalising Product. For the latest material innovations in this area, see Wondrous Response.