Contact lens: Future platform for mHealth?

By: Brian Dolan | Nov 25, 2009        

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contact lensUniversity of Washington’s Babak Parviz believes that the future platform for wireless health will be the contact lens — that’s right, the same ones we visually impaired people wear to improve our vision. If Parviz succeeds contacts will do a lot more than just improve vision (even though they will be able to do that a whole lot better, too.) Here’s the opportunity in Parviz’s own words:

“The true promise of this research is not just the actual system we end up making, whether it’s a display, a biosensor, or both,” Dr. Parviz said in a recent interview. “We already see a future in which the humble contact lens becomes a real platform, like the iPhone is today, with lots of developers contributing their ideas and inventions. As far as we’re concerned, the possibilities extend as far as the eye can see, and beyond.”

Even Parviz can’t resist the easy jokes and puns, but his vision is off to a good start: He has already tested prototypes of the contact lenses on rabbits, which wore them for some 20 minutes with no adverse side effects, he claimed. Parviz conducted these prototype tests early last year, and those lenses only included one LED light — a far cry from a rich user experience like the iPhone. Parviz, however, believes it’s a start.

Parviz said the lenses could be used as biosensors to display body chemistry or vital signs. In other words the contact lens will no longer be a tool that only enables us to see the outside world better, it will help us get a better view of what is going on inside our own bodies, too, Parviz predicts.

Parviz’s prototype lenses are powered by radio waves and 330 microwatts of power from a loop antenna that picks up power beamed from nearby radios, but Parviz and collaborators are currently working on future versions of the lenses that are able to harvest power from a cell phone.

The search for wireless electricity is clearly key for the success of the contact lens as wireless health’s future, but it’s a challenge Parviz recognizes. (Read more from H+Magazine’s interview with Parviz.)View the short video interview below to get a better understanding of Parviz’s invention and its potential for wireless health monitoring.