Smart contact lenses emerge from basic research

The following post is from Desney Tan, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. Tan manages the Computational User Experiences group in Redmond, Wash. He also holds an affiliate faculty appointment in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. It was originally published on The Official Microsoft Blog.


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Yesterday, my long-time friends and colleagues Babak Parviz and Brian Otis announced on the Google blog their intent to develop a glucose-sensing contact lens. I’m not usually a blogger, but given that my inbox and voicemail are stuffed with calls for comments and queries about the relationship of this project to the one Microsoft Research worked on with Babak and Brian a few years ago, I thought I’d use this forum to provide my perspective.

As background, my team and I here at Microsoft Research had the pleasure of supporting and working with Babak and Brian and a number of other collaborators very early in this project. Babak and Brian were still full-time faculty at the University of Washington. In our collaboration, we demonstrated the feasibility not only of embedding displays in the contact lenses, but more importantly, of glucose sensing as well. As one would imagine, we tackled numerous hard problems around miniaturization, wireless power, wireless communications and biocompatibility.

What’s occurred here is a great example of why we and others must continue to invest in basic research, pushing the boundaries of science and technology in an effort to improve the lives of as many people as possible. Most of the time here at Microsoft, we do this in partnership with our business group colleagues, who can take direct advantage of our work and deliver it directly to our customers. But there are other instances where we do this through partners, and sometimes even through competitors. Our open research and deeply collaborative model allows us to work with the best academic and industrial researchers around the world, and we will continue to do so as we certainly believe in the philosophy that “we” is smarter than “me.” This open approach to working with and through others has consistently delivered outsized rewards for Microsoft and for the world at large.

Microsoft has more than 1,100 researchers worldwide focused on a broad range of research. As related to healthcare, in the lab today, we are doing some really amazing research from the work that Dr. David Heckerman is doing around HIV vaccines and personal genomics, to the use of Kinect for brain tumor diagnostics, stroke rehabilitation and hearing impairment, to the development of technologies that help treat diseases such as tuberculosis. The list goes on and on, and we continue to run as fast as we can to continue to rock the world. You can track some of our projects by following @MSFTResearch.

Success in the smart contact lens project could impact the lives of millions, and we wish Babak, Brian and the Google team good luck in this endeavor.