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Samsung Releasing Smart Contact Lenses That Are Straight Out of Spy Movies

Dianna Labrien, Freelance Writer and Content Strategist, @DiLabrien
05.23.16
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"Mission Impossible" was once a TV series, with commands given to the leader of a secret black-ops team via a tape recording, which was usually picked up at some secret but very public location (often a phone booth). Then the team went to work, devising incredible schemes to bring down international villains. It was a hugely popular series that ran for seven seasons on CBS. But it really contained very little sci-fi type technology – just human ingenuity. The series ended in 1973.

Enter 1996. "Mission Impossible" hit the big screen, with lots of "impossible" technology, including the use of a contact lens to photograph nuclear codes, in the "Ghost Protocol" episode (2011). That probably set a number of tech innovators thinking, and one of those may have been Samsung.

Samsung's Patent Revealed

A 29-page patent, applied for in 2014, was recently made public. It seems that this Korean tech giant is in the process of prototyping a smart contact lens that will start where Google Glass left off. It will sport computer chips as tiny as glitter and allow a wearer to take a picture with the blink of an eye. Embedded antenna would then sent that image to a mobile device, such as a Galaxy phone or tablet.

Not the First Smart Contact Lens Development

Samsung is by no means alone in this whole IoT contact lens thing. In 2014, Google finalized a contract with Novartis, a health care giant, to produce a contact lens that would monitor the glucose levels of patients with diabetes, by analyzing their tears and providing early warning alerts.

And in 2015, a group of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology announced that they were working on a contact lens with a zoom feature, activated by winking. Originally, they were working on a camera device for drones, but changed that research when they saw the possibilities for consumer use.

Where Samsung hopes to be unique is by providing a more natural experience for wearers and the ability to do far more than Google Glass, medical monitoring or zooming. It wants to move wearers into the world of augmented reality technology through unobtrusive eyewear. Will anyone out in public have any privacy anymore?

Sony Gets Into the Act

Soon after the Google and Samsung patents, Sony had a patent approved too, and if the specs can be trusted, their gadget will sport far more features than those offered by Samsung or Google. In addition to photos, users will be able to video their environments, through a technology that will be able to differentiate between normal blinking and deliberate activation of the camera. And whatever a wearer will want to record will then be transmitted to an external device. The features of the proposed Sony device will mimic those of the best cameras on the market.

Google Responds

The race gets even more interesting. Now Google has announced its filing of a patent for a camera device that will be implanted directly into the eye of the user. The obvious benefit will be that an implanted device will not swish down a shower drain or be lost on a soccer field after a tough "hit." The technology of this device includes the ability to take still shots or videos, to adjust focus automatically, and to remotely adjust and calibrate focus as vision changes over time.

It seems that the competition in the headset arena may soon be a thing of the past. All three companies – Samsung, Sony and Google are moving on.

Where Will it All End?

Smart contacts and implanted photographic and recording devices are not anywhere near market-ready development. But when the largest tech giants in the world are filing patents for these things, we can assume that our futures will include the devices they are envisioning.

And just how fast will consumers take to these new lenses and implants? These companies are betting that anything which will reduce the inconvenience of carrying external devices around, misplacing them, losing them, risking theft, etc., will always be a winner. They are probably correct in that assumption. As well, the average person who ventures into public places is now acutely aware that s/he has no privacy left – phones, dash cams, and publicly mounted surveillance cameras in virtually all public places have become a basic accepted reality.

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