How Microsoft had a hand in inventing Google's glucose-sensing smart contact lens

Google X may have announced its smart contact lens project, but Microsoft Research says it worked on it first.

Do you recall how Microsoft claimed it invented, or invisibly runs, practically everything? Along those lines, Microsoft Research is claiming partial credit for the smart contact lens project that Google unveiled last week.

Google announced that it was testing a smart contact lens that has "chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair."

We're now testing a smart contact lens that's built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. We're testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. We're also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we're exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds. It's still early days for this technology, but we've completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease.

After Google's announcement, Desney Tan, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, was bombarded with questions about his "long-time friends and colleagues Babak Parviz and Brian Otis, who declared "their intent to develop a glucose-sensing contact lens." Tan's "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."

So Tan wrote:

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.

I'm not faulting Tan - more power to him - for just pointing out that Microsoft apparently had a hand in Google's glucose-sensing contact lens. After all, Microsoft has taken credit for inventing, or its software invisibly running, almost everything. To be fair, Microsoft Research has more than 1,100 researchers who work on everything from privacy and security to healthcare.

In fact, Microsoft Research recently adopted an Open Access policy for all research publications.

Microsoft Research is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible because we recognize the benefits that accrue to scholarly enterprises from such wide dissemination, including more thorough review, consideration and critique, and general increase in scientific, scholarly and critical knowledge.

Like Microsoft, Google has a lot of power and money. However, unlike Microsoft Research, most of the "moonshot" research that goes on inside Google X, "Google's secret lab," is least until the company decides to shock the world with its projects like Google Glass and the driverless car.

In the end, if you have diabetes and someone invents something to help you out, then you might not care whether it is Microsoft or Google in your eye.

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