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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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