I have written lately about how venture investors who have had long traditions of investing in medical devices are abandoning this sector. Among the reasons given are the increasingly difficult regulatory and reimbursement environments, the lengthy time to liquidity and the anemic IPO market. But having seen a few stories lately about the newest medical technologies hurtling towards the market, I am beginning to think that the best reason to run from this field is that the inventions are getting crazier and crazier.
Exhibit A is a new type of contact lens that projects images directly onto the eye. According to its inventors at the University of Washington, this new contact lens “could enable wearers to read floating texts and emails or augment their sight with computer-generated images.” Well thank God because it was getting exhausting for me to look all the way from my eyes to my iPhone to read my email.
I hardly know where to begin on this one. First of all, I don’t know about you but damn near everyone I know is already so glued to their email device that they forget to participate in critical functions of daily living, like listening to their spouse or breathing or, in the case of the President, running the country. It’s bad enough when your teenager tunes you out, but if they can read texts all day long by literally sitting there with a vacant stare, a whole generation of kids are going to be misdiagnosed as having lapsed into comas. “Yes, we thought little Susie had died, but actually we found out that she had stopped blinking because she was reading a high volume of incoming texts about who hooked up with who at the junior prom.”
Apparently, animal trials of this product have already been completed showing both feasibility and safety. I feel very sorry for the little bunnies used in these clinical trials. Can you imagine that you have figured out how to adapt to your miserable life in your lab cage and then suddenly you are forced to watch the Food Network right inside your own head for hours on end. That cannot be fun, especially if you are the protein they are cooking up that day.
Furthermore, I wonder about the definition of “safety” used in this pre-clinical study. People are already bumping into lamposts as they walk down the street texting ( the new ICD-10 even has a diagnostic code for this). If you are walking down the street watching the 49ers game on your own eyeballs there are bound to be safety-related mishaps–at the very least a collision with someone watching the NY Giants.
The article I saw about this so-called (by me) eyePhone did mention one potential advantage, which is that the contact lens could be used to project journey directions directly onto the eye. This has a clear market opportunity as it would allow male drivers to get directions without letting their female passengers know they they had compromised their masculinity to do so. Another advantage, of course, is that you could watch ESPN during Board meetings and look like you were paying rapt attention.
Lead researcher on the eyePhone project, Professor Babak Parviz, noted that, “Our next goal is to incorporate some predetermined text in the contact lens.”
Can you imagine? It’s distracting and annoying enough to watch the screen crawl at the bottom of CNN or ESPN, but to have that running in your eye while you’re watching other video would make you go insane. On the other hand, it brings the opportunity to nag your co-workers or family members to a whole new level. It would be convenient to interrupt the teenager’s text message coma with a running commentary that includes, “Did you feed the dog? Don’t forget to clean your room!” and, of course, “Stop texting when I’m talking to you!”
Supposedly the biggest challenge to this device is the power source issue–you can’t yet run it without a wireless battery within centimeters of the contact lenses. But this seems to me an opportunity to launch a line of product accessories (can you say incremental revenue?) which would include rechargeable batteries shaped like baseball hats or earrings.
Clearly the inventors are already thinking along these lines because in their next version of the product they hope to include hundreds more pixels in order to produce and project complex holographic images onto your baby blues or browns or greens, as the case may be. The app builders at Playboy.com must be gearing up for a whole new level of inspiration from this particular platform. And just in time for the holidays!
If you want to see more on this contact lens, there is a YouTube video about the University of Washington project you can watch (but not directly on your eye) by clicking HERE.
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