Yes, Google Glass users look weird. But Google’s smart contact lens will change all that.

January 17

(NBC)

Despite what critics think, privacy and ethics aren't really the barriers to widespread Google Glass adoption. With most new technologies (like the Internet), those questions get hashed out as society confronts them, not before.

The real hurdle to date has been how weird the thing looks. Google Glass naysayers tend to fixate on how unfashionable or uncomfortable-looking the devices are. Socially, they create a barrier between people, hindering interactions. And that's true enough.

Now This News reports on Google's latest innovation-- smart contact lenses. (Now This News)

But it's also true that it won't be that way forever. A huge share of Americans say they'd try Google Glass if they could. And with eyewear designers starting to dream up ways to put Glass in stylish frames, it won't be long before wearing Glass becomes as innocuous as wearing ordinary spectacles.

Now, Google's taken another step in normalizing Glass. It's unveiled a smart contact lens containing a silicon chip so small it's the size of a piece of glitter.

The lens is intended to help diabetics track the glucose levels in their tears. It has a sensor embedded in the thin plastic and a wireless chip so that it can communicate with other devices. And engineers at Google's secretive X labs are working on putting LEDs in the lens so that it can show users a visual warning if their glucose reaches dangerous levels.

Scale that up, and what you get is a version of Google Glass that fits in your eye.

Google actually isn't the first company to try something like this. Five years ago, scientists at the University of Washington figured out how to put LEDs and sensors in a contact lens.

(University of Washington)
(University of Washington)

And Belgian researchers have tried something similar, too:

There's clearly been a lot of progress on this front in just the last few years. And if the trend continues, it's fair to assume that fully featured augmented-reality contact lenses are coming. And once they're here, then we'll have a chance to grapple with the ethics of this technology.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · January 17