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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 ameeting, or seeing the fourth quarter earnings for a company in (literally) the blink of an eye.

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

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Although it might sound like something from a science fiction novel,scientists at the University of Washington are working on solar powered contactlenses with transparent LEDs embedded onto the lens. This technology could be applied in countless ways, from health monitoring totext 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 resultswas an “Assisted Living Contact Lens” that would project helpful information,such as the calorie count for a chocolate scone, or a GPS map overlay locatingthe nearest gyms.

Now it seems like our idea might become a reality. And the more Ithink about it, the more it seems like this concept could be the new Bluetoothheadset. 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-dressedman yelling and gesturing wildly to himself.

But I haven’t asked that question in years. These days, the seemingpsycho-social disconnect displayed by talking to oneself in public is rarelyconsidered grounds for insanity. The small wireless headsets that were oncenovelties have now become the norm. This is the process that happens once a newtechnology proves its relevance in users’ lives.

Bluetooth has been a massive benefit to the business world–themobility allows constant communication with clients and its hands-freeoperation increases efficiency and allows for easier multi-tasking. Andfortunately, most headsets have been implemented in ways that meet user needsfor fit, comfort and functionality. Today, it’s used ubiquitously by CEOs andsoccer moms.

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

Which takes me back to the Smart Lens. Since the Assisted LivingContact Lens was conceived, a slough of new Smart Phones have engendered apopulace absorbed in palm-sized screens and created a widespread desire foron-demand information. In today’s context, a Smart Lens sounds more convenientthan creepy. Personally, I have a terrible memory for names. I might appreciatea contact lens that could provide labels over people’s heads when I walked intoa room.

So if you see me gazing off into a distant world of information thatonly 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 brandambassadors for its clients and lead to greater market share andincreased profit. SKD’s team of 25 designers,researchers, and mechanical engineers guide a product fromconceptualization through production. SKD is renowned for its medical products and its ear-centric devices, including communication headsets for Jabra and Plantronics, the Zōnhearing aid for Starkey Laboratories, and noise-cancelling ear buds forUltimate Ears. SKD’s awards include IDEA, Red Dot, iF, Good Design and the I.D. AnnualDesign 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 topfive “Design Factories” in its annual Masters of Design issue.

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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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