Google is developing an AI-powered microscope to help doctors spot cancer

The Department of Defense teamed up with the tech giant to build the tool, CNBC reports.


Google has prototyped an “Augmented Reality Microscope,” (ARM) in conjunction with the Department of Defense, which incorporates artificial intelligence enhancements to overlay visual indicators, like heatmaps or object boundaries, in real-time. The AI additions allegedly make it easier to classify samples and identify the presence of cancer cells or pathogens.

The ARM was first teased publicly in 2018 and has not been used to diagnose patients yet. Currently, 13 prototypes of the ARM exist, with significant testing still needed before it can assist everyday clinicians. However, the intention is to create a system that can be "retrofitted into existing light microscopes found in hospitals and clinics," according to Google. ARM-equipped microscopes can then provide a variety of visual feedback, including text, arrows, contours, heat maps, or animations, each tailored to unique assessment goals.

The Department of Defense's Defense Innovation Unit has reportedly negotiated agreements with Google that will enable ARM distribution through the military, according to CNBC, with the hope that it could be available to some government users sometime this fall. ARM is expected to cost between $90,000 and $100,000 — likely well beyond the means of local health providers. We've asked Google for more information on the progress of the program and potential timeline of availability and will update if we hear back.

This is not the first time Google Health has dipped its toes in investing in AI-powered tools that not only improve the accuracy of diagnostics but also help fill gaps in medicine where there is limited availability of healthcare personnel. The tech giant has made it a point to partner with startups that invest in AI to “improve healthcare” and is projected to have invested upwards of $200 billion on AI investments in the past decade, according to Reuters. This is especially noteworthy considering the World Health Organization predicts a shortfall of 15 million health care workers worldwide by 2030.