Fast Company

Will Smart Contact Lenses Be the Bluetooth Headsets of the Future?

Imagine instant access to the latest market segment information at a meeting, or seeing the fourth quarter earnings for a company in (literally) the blink of an eye.

Although it might sound like something from a science fiction novel, scientists at the University of Washington are working on solar powered contact lenses with transparent LEDs embedded onto the lens. This technology could be applied in countless ways, from health monitoring to text translation right in front of the wearer's eyes.

In 2006, my team at SKD designed a very similar concept for our "Cautionary Visions" project. Analyzing current trends in technology and popular culture, from emerging demands for constant connection to the increasingly blurred boundaries between natural and artificial, my designers imagined the dark alleys down which these trends could take us.

One of the results was an "Assisted Living Contact Lens" that would project helpful information, such as the calorie count for a chocolate scone, or a GPS map overlay locating the nearest gyms.

Now it seems like our idea might become a reality. And the more I think about it, the more it seems like this concept could be the new Bluetooth headset. I still remember an article that ran in the Los Angeles Times: "Crazy? Or Cell Phone?" I used to ask myself the same question every time I saw a well-dressed man yelling and gesturing wildly to himself.

But I haven't asked that question in years. These days, the seeming psycho-social disconnect displayed by talking to oneself in public is rarely considered grounds for insanity. The small wireless headsets that were once novelties have now become the norm. This is the process that happens once a new technology proves its relevance in users' lives.

Bluetooth has been a massive benefit to the business world--the mobility allows constant communication with clients and its hands-free operation increases efficiency and allows for easier multi-tasking. And fortunately, most headsets have been implemented in ways that meet user needs for fit, comfort and functionality. Today, it's used ubiquitously by CEOs and soccer moms.

Relevance is the challenge that new technology developers face, and it’s an area where designers can add value. Relevance involves finding the right audience for a new product, then discovering the needs of this audience and building a product around the need. When developing Jabra's first line of Bluetooth headsets in 2000, my team at SKD looked at cultural factors and found that the increasingly blurred lines between work and personal life and the desire for constant connectivity made business professionals a great group of early adopters for Bluetooth Headsets. The capability of the technology solved an unmet need in their lives.

Which takes me back to the Smart Lens. Since the Assisted Living Contact Lens was conceived, a slough of new Smart Phones have engendered a populace absorbed in palm-sized screens and created a widespread desire for on-demand information. In today's context, a Smart Lens sounds more convenient than creepy. Personally, I have a terrible memory for names. I might appreciate a contact lens that could provide labels over people's heads when I walked into a room.

So if you see me gazing off into a distant world of information that only I can see, you may have fun wondering, "Crazy? Or contact lens?"...until you get your own.

Read more of Stuart Karten's Dear Stuart blog
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For 25 years, Stuart Karten Design (SKD) has designed products that serve as brand ambassadors for its clients and lead to greater market share and increased profit. SKD's team of 25 designers, researchers, and mechanical engineers guide a product from conceptualization through production. SKD is renowned for its medical products and its ear-centric devices, including communication headsets for Jabra and Plantronics, the Zōn hearing aid for Starkey Laboratories, and noise-cancelling ear buds for Ultimate Ears. SKD's awards include IDEA, Red Dot, iF, Good Design and the I.D. Annual Design Review. Conceptual "Epidermits Interactive Pet" was a part of MOMA's Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition. In 2008, Fast Company named SKD among America's top five "Design Factories" in its annual Masters of Design issue.

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25 Comments

  • Love Manju

    sir i want contact lens very arjent u can suppyy enye 2 pic plss smbmanju.manju@gmail.com 9738001203 7204159553

  • Jay Viradiya

    I think that future contact lens is not just a concept but it's a reality because it's an extraordinary concept which I had ever seen .Future contact lens could change the life of human being and I hope that this technology could change an old era and gives birth to a beautiful future.

  • Smb Manju

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    {" Smart Contact Lenses Be the Bluetooth "}}   pls replay me  

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  • Oreosnarfer

    This may be the future of project glass by google (or an alternative). I'm not sure if I would rather wear a context lens or have a piece of glass in front of my face

  • S montgomery

    A technological hurdle has been acheived! Now if we can only get past the 30-day lens barrier...

  • PreludeSys

    Interesting to see how technology is changing the way we are currently living and how we are going to live in the future. From smart phones to smart lenses - It does sound fictitious, but thinking of the plus and minus that is likely to come along with that leaves behind a deep sense of curiosity.

  • Smbmanju Manju

     SIR I WANT THREE OF LENS      WAITING FOR UR REPLAY 
     SMBMANJU.MANJU@GMAIL.COM    9738001203

  • charles bolton

    Where can I buy one. I want it now!  I tried for years to build a heads up display for a wearable computer. The wearable computer was doable, but the heads up display was always a disappointment.  With an integrated blue tooth earbud and the personal video contact lens linked to one's cellphone/personal wearable computer answers 2/3rds of the problem.  These ideas solve the output problem.  The remaining hurdle is ease of input and control.  Tiny keys to small for my fingers do not work.  Voice command is obvious and that is making strides.  However, for some functions voice is not an elegant solution.  Howabout a ring mouse (triaxis acelerometer + other magic) that uses gestures to act a a mouse controller, pointer, selecter and handwritting input.
    Someone put me back in my straight jacket and belay the anchor, I am starting to levitate off the floor ;-}

  • Kathleen Beisly

    This is cool and creepy all at the same time.  But as long as we're talking about assisted technology, why not consider the possibilities for people with vision problems. If you are already thinking this far out of the box, why not consider using such technology to enhance vision for people with low vision or other abnormalities where technology could fill in the gaps to correct what the user 'sees'. 

  • Sathiya seelan

    I suppose this is good news for advertisers. Imagine the exposure they get when there's a constant ad running on one corner of your sight!

  • tony

    I know a person who this in his eye right now which could be the prototype and it is monitored by a computer the lense can read his thought's or the people that are watching via vomputer can see his every move,know what the person is thinking at all times.This technology has uses in the government sector too such as police departments government agencies such as the fbi or the nsa it could be to entrap would be criminal's..
    it's all hooked up through the retina to the eye socket tthrough the brain of a unsuspecting individual like the person as i said who's wearing it and who is in fact been wearing it since 2005 which also a radio transmitter built inside of the len's the remote user's can hear what the host of the lense is listening too at all times..

    I'm telling you right now this technology is the mark of the new world order for policing neighborhood's especially since the police is'nt alway's around to investigate crimes of a certain origin like drug traffic in parts of cities in the u.s.a

  • Rob McCready

    This is probably one of the best advancements in video technology since pictures came to the motion side of things. Think of the myriad of possible applications. Laptops without monitors, Tv's that don't have a screen, mobile internet access without needing to look at the tiny screen on your smartphone...amazing. Like some of the other people who have commented, I'm sure it will take some time before it gets out there as well as the means to apply it to modern technologies, but I'm already thinking of design ideas for devices that would work in tandem with this giant leap for mankind.

  • Rob McCready

    This is probably one of the best advancements in video technology since pictures came to the motion side of things. Think of the myriad of possible applications. Laptops without monitors, Tv's that don't have a screen, mobile internet access without needing to look at the tiny screen on your smartphone...amazing. Like some of the other people who have commented, I'm sure it will take some time before it gets out there as well as the means to apply it to modern technologies, but I'm already thinking of design ideas for devices that would work in tandem with this giant leap for mankind.

  • Rob McCready

    This is probably one of the best advancements in video technology since pictures came to the motion side of things. Think of the myriad of possible applications. Laptops without monitors, Tv's that don't have a screen, mobile internet access without needing to look at the tiny screen on your smartphone...amazing. Like some of the other people who have commented, I'm sure it will take some time before it gets out there as well as the means to apply it to modern technologies, but I'm already thinking of design ideas for devices that would work in tandem with this giant leap for mankind.

  • Michael Brown

    This is one product I will NOT be an early adapter of. Gotta see what the long-term effects are going to be of having tiny transmitter/receivers laying right smack on top of one's naked cornea before I take that plunge.