Forget electronic contact lenses; Google’s next step could be to inject vision-enhancing electronics directly into the eye.
A patent fled by Google and Andrew Jason Conrad—currently the head of Verily, the life sciences unit of Google parent company Alphabet—calls for an “intra-ocular device” that would sit within the lens capsule of the eye. The device would not be a full-blown computer—the processor and controls would live in an external “interface device” such as a smartphone—but it would include sensors, an electronic lens, battery, and “bio-interactive components.”
To power the device, Google’s patent mentions an “energy harvesting antenna,” which doesn’t at all bring the Matrix to mind. Google says this antenna could “capture energy from incident radio radiation,” and could optionally double as a way to communicate with the external device. Alternatively, the external device could be worn by the user or stashed beside a bed, and would power the eye sensor wirelessly.
How would the “installation” work? Patients would get a dose of anesthetic, and then a surgeon would cut through the cornea and into the anterior chamber of the eye, introducing fluid into the lens capsule to help position the device. That fluid would then solidify, coupling the lens capsule and the device. Google describes being able to replace some or all of the patient’s natural eye lens if necessary.
The main purpose of this device would be to improve or restore vision in people with medical issues such as cataracts and presbyopia. But the patent also mentions other applications beyond the medical realm, including depth- and focus-sensors for “a virtual scene presented to the user.”
Why this matters: As with any patent filing, there’s no guarantee that Google’s intra-ocular device concept will materialize. But keep in mind the company previously patented smart contact lenses before working on a real version that measures blood glucose levels. Given enough time, this latest invention could be the HoloLens of the future—not worn atop your head, but squeezed into your eyeball.