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

A new solar-powered contact lens embedded with LEDs means that the wearer can see what you can’t. Stuart Karten thinks this heralds the beginning of a new breed of augmented reality communication.

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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Designers

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.

About the author

Stuart Karten is the Founder and President of Los Angeles-based product innovation consultancy [url=http://kartendesign.com/]Karten Design[/url]. Since 1984, he has partnered with medical device, digital health, and consumer product manufacturers to build their businesses through design.

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