"Smart contact lens." Get used to that term, even if it makes you cringe - a new patent from Google indicates that at least someone at Mountain View thinks it's a potentially viable idea. Patent Bolt reports on a Google application to the USPTO for "multi-sensor contact lenses," intended primarily as a method for blinking input or input augmentation for wearable devices, or just electronics in general. (Note: this shouldn't be confused with Google's other contact lenses, announced in January as a medical diagnostic device for diabetics.)


The basic idea is that a number of sensors embedded into a contact lens could be used to detect blinks with incredible accuracy. The technology to track eyes and blinks already exists, but it's been focused almost exclusively on external cameras. The patent application describes a light sensor, pressure sensor, temperature sensor, and conductivity and electric field sensors, all combined with a control circuit and power source embedded outside the user's physical field of vision. This isn't a "smart" device in the traditional sense - there would be no serious computation going on inside the lens itself - but the sensors could give extremely precise readings on the number and duration of blinks. One of the explicit uses of the sensor is to detect changes in light reception to accurately infer a blink.

To what end? Google's patent application describes input based on a pattern of blinks, both for wearable and non-wearable devices. To put it simply: a user with one of these contact lenses could send commands to a smartphone or Google Glass simply by blinking. "Blink once for yes, twice for no," that sort of thing. Of course, the technical methods and possible uses for this sort of input are far more complex, and so is the terminology in the patent application, because patent lawyers necessarily cover every possible interpretation and application of a theoretical technology. But "blink control" would be a good way of summing up this particular idea.

The patent application was filed in late 2012, which would have been in the latter part of development cycle for the initial release of Google Glass. (The patent describes a contact lens that can connect to a wireless network, and potentially interact with any wireless device.) A few of the more practical parts of the idea are left abstract, particularly the power supply; Google describes various method of power including solar, thermal, or radio frequency power. It's safe to say that any real-world developments of this idea are quite a ways away even now, but the potential for expanding user input is interesting. And a little creepy.

Source: Patent Bolt

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • Justin Foster

    *dust flies in my eyes causing me to blink incessantly* oh crap, I just erased all my "contacts" -_-

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Oh crap, a photo of my junk just went to my grandma.

      • Ivan Myring

        Why would you keep a photo of your junk on your contact lenses!

        • Anorax

          just don't look down while showering. *blink* *photo saved*

        • Justin Foster

          The contact lenses would be linked to a mobile device...i.e phone, tablet.....

      • Deeco

        Nothing to see here.

      • Deeco

        Nothing to see here.

  • jamaall

    I wouldn't really see the need for this.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Unintended pun detected.

  • fonix232

    I find it less creepy than biotech - implanted computers and so on. Besides, it is less obtrusive as Glass, and takes up less space (duh).

    • Evaris

      but what about people who are uncomfotable with contacts lenses and can't even get them in their eye? i.e. people like me who wear regular glasses due to this.

      • fonix232

        Well they still have the Glass option. This is another case where you can't please everyone with one product - some have reasons not to, let it be physical, biological impossibility (intolerance of contact lenses), or merely just being an arse (those heavy-duty anti-Glass guys).

  • http://dolphinfree.net/ Tenkely

    Yeah ... helping people manage diabetes is super creepy. Take off your tinfoil hat +Android Police ...

    • http://thegumshoe.com/ Michael Crider

      First paragraph.

      • http://dolphinfree.net/ Tenkely

        Are you assuming this separate patent is unrelated?

        • miri


    • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman


      • http://dolphinfree.net/ Tenkely

        Did RTFA ... Comment still stands. Not creepy.

        • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

          If you read the article, you'd know this item had nothing to do with helping people manage diabetes. The element of whether or not it's creepy is irrelevant to the fact that your comment is unrelated to the point of this topic.

          • http://dolphinfree.net/ Tenkely

            Let it go man. Time will tell if they are related...

          • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

            What does blink detection have to do with diabetes? There are a ton of things this could be used for that have nothing to do with diabetes, and quite likely nothing that DOES. Point is, directly ignoring the article's statement that this is unrelated, and arguing like it was never even said is just weird.

            "Product X, which has nothing do with project Y which was designed to handle issue B, has the following issues."

            "You shouldn't rail so badly on something designed resolve issue B!"

            You're making the bigger leap by assuming they ARE related, and giving AP crap over their comments while directly ignoring their words, than they are by taking the patents at face value.

          • http://dolphinfree.net/ Tenkely

            In the announcement for the glucose monitoring contacts there was mention of a possible future light indicator to let the wearer be notified of appropriate info (levels). This new patent could be applied as a means to dismiss or interact with that "notification". Blink twice to dismiss the red light in your contact that's telling you for blood sugar is low, etc.
            And just because AP said it is unrelated doesn't make it true. I didn't ignore them saying it was unrelated, I chose to think for myself, then call them out for a link bait share. Oooooh creepy contacts are coming! People could at least try to see the good in things before starting FUD on stuff at don't have any idea about.

  • Augmentation

    Deus Ex: Human Revolution

  • miri

    Could be useful for those with physical disabilities. Not every technological development is intended to fulfill sci-fi fantasies.

  • Rob

    How does that go again....? "WE ARE THE BORG. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE." © 2014 Google. :P

  • GazaIan

    At this rate, we should be full cyborgs by 2050.

    • frafri

      Im shooting for 2020

    • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

      Deus Ex, anyone?

  • Ransom

    "HELP, i've flashed a new rom and kernel to my lenses and now they won't boot properly anymore! If i crash my car on the road i'll sue Google for making an unreliable product!"
    Mark my words.

    • Leonardo Farage Freitas

      but but.. the lenses.. they.. don't do anything besides telling that you blinked.. or.. perhaps you are trying to control your car with your eyes?!

      Sorry.. I know it's just a joke, but couldn't resist :P

  • David Sousa

    Tio Salamanca can finally call the DEA at anytime.

  • Asphyx


  • jesuguru

    Smartphone (or smartwatch) use I could possibly understand... But if you were already wearing Glass, why couldn't Glass itself detect blinks without needing an additional periphery on your eye?

    • squiddy20

      Because in the situation, the limited battery power in Glass would be used feeding juice to the camera to monitor your blinks. And an additional camera would be needed since there is no "front facing camera" (face facing camera?).

      • jesuguru

        Fair points, but it wouldn't need to be constantly monitoring, just when input is needed. Additional camera would indeed be needed, but I imagine consumer acceptance/enthusiasm for that would be higher than for a contact lens (many, including myself, don't find them comfortable).

        • squiddy20

          Even so, there isn't a whole lot of battery in Google Glass. From what I understand, you can only shoot 10 seconds worth of video from the device at a time, so as to limit drain on the battery.
          And I do see your point about acceptance. I myself wear prescription glasses because I can't stand fiddling with my eye.

  • heej
  • Nata Greer

    Seems at this point they're just creating any and all theoretical devices so they can hold patents on them. Doesn't matter if we can figure out any useful application for them, 10 years down the line someone might and it'll be a gold mine.

  • Bill Cat

    patenting the old blink once for yes twice for no for communication now applied to technology.
    Next comes patenting scratch once for yes twice for no.

    Seriously we need to stop the patent nonsense before we have to pay royalties to go to the bathrrom

  • bhuvan

    next what patent in thr wallet!!!!

  • MistiXF

    Is it normal in USA to patent an IDEA?