Alphabet has halted a project under its biotech division Verily that aimed to create smart contact lenses for people with diabetes. The ambitious, years-long endeavour aimed to measure glucose levels in tears using on-lens sensors.
Verily made the announcement Friday in a blog post about its decision with Alcon to table the project for the foreseeable future, citing inconsistencies in its measurements between blood and tear glucose levels. (Verily partnered with the Swiss eye care company, a subsidiary of Novartis, in 2014 on developing the glucose-sensing contacts.)
“Our clinical work on the glucose-sensing lens demonstrated that there was insufficient consistency in our measurements of the correlation between tear glucose and blood glucose concentrations to support the requirements of a medical device,” the company said. “In part, this was associated with the challenges of obtaining reliable tear glucose readings in the complex on-eye environment.”
Verily said that it would continue to partner with Alcon on its two other Smart Lens devices: an intraocular lens designed to improve sight following cataract surgery and another for presbyopia. Alcon confirmed that the decision to halt the project was mutual.
It’s a notable move for the company and one that wasn’t without its warning signs. Experts and Google employees have previously criticised the project, with Stat reporting in 2016 that one former Verily manager described the smart lens as “slideware,” or a project that sounds good in theory but is limited in its potential beyond a PowerPoint presentation.
Defending its technology and research at the time, Verily told Stat: “As with all true innovation, some projects can and will fail.” Still, Verily stated Friday it is committed to its other projects focused around diabetes, including other affordable and unobtrusive glucose sensing methods.