Sony has filed a patent for smart contact lenses capable of capturing, storing and even playing back photos and videos.
According to the patent, Sony’s invention will cram a bunch of tech into one tiny contact lens: there is an image pickup unit (camera) which includes autofocus, zoom and image stabilization to counteract motion of the eyeball, a control unit for the camera, a wireless antenna which transmits recordings to an external storage device, and even a display unit to play back recordings right before your eyes.
A diagram submitted as part of Sony’s patent application. Source: Sony
The technology will be so well integrated that the camera is even controlled by thought. Well, almost… it’s controlled with the blink of an eye. Sony’s team of inventors says the usual time period of a blink is 0.2 – 0.4 seconds, so a blink that exceeds 0.5 seconds can be considered a “conscious” blink for the purposes of this invention. When the camera detects a “conscious” blink, it will capture photos or record video accordingly.
The lens is intended to be worn on just one eye, and Sony notes this will allow users who need prescription contact lenses to at least keep one eye clear for sight.
The patent was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office a few weeks ago, but it was actually filed in May 2013, which means Sony has been working on this technology for a while already. And Sony isn’t alone in the race to develop the ultimate wearable technology.
In 2014, Samsung filed a patent in South Korea for a smart contact lens with built-in camera. The same year, Google announced its prototype for a contact lens with a built-in sensor to measures the glucose levels in tears. The Google lens is intended to help diabetics stay on top of their blood sugar levels, and includes a wireless antenna to send the results to an external device for analysis. And in 2015, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology revealed a prototype smart lens with built-in telescope that is also controlled by blink.
Google’s prototype smart lens measures glucose levels in the user’s tears. Source: Google Blog
Smart lenses with cameras have a lot of use. Not only could you win countless arguments with a simple, “But you said…(blink),” you could also choose to relive any magical moment you choose to record. But is that such a good idea? On one hand, there’s no need to hire a wedding photographer when you can record and relive your vowels first hand. On the other hand, life is for living not recording and there are some things – like break ups and intimate moments – best left to memory. And as with any new technology, particularly of the wearable and covert kind, smart lenses raise huge privacy concerns.
Technology and privacy law have traditionally moved at two very different paces, but there’s a palpable shift in that dynamic. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware and concerned about privacy, and last year the United Nations even appointed its first ever Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Professor Joe Cannataci. Professor Cannataci says the days of privacy being treated as an afterthought by government and businesses are coming to an end. Tech companies are now considering what Professor Cannataci calls “privacy by design,” taking privacy into consideration in the early stages of production and release of new products.
Google certainly addressed privacy concerns when it unveiled its smart lens, assuring the public that data from its glucose-measuring smart lens would never be transmitted to Google’s servers. But smart lenses with built-in cameras set off a whole new level of privacy alarms. They have the potential to collect private moments and personal information about not just the user, but any other person in sight. And even if those images and videos are never transmitted to a server, it’s only right to be concerned about how users might exploit the power to collect photos and videos of people and places with no notice to those around them.
If the idea of tech companies moving towards privacy by design is anything more than just talk, it’s likely that smart lenses such as Sony’s won’t hit market for a very long time. Because sadly, in today’s world of up-skirting and revenge porn, it’s clear that without sufficient laws and safeguards in place, society isn’t ready for this kind of technology.