The LG Group has chosen smart contact lenses as its first convergent R&D project since Koo Kwang-mo took office as its chairman. Smart contact lenses are much more convenient than eyeglass-like products like the "Google Glass" and offer users wider and clearer views.
Most notably, smart contact lenses are a next-generation device that can exert considerable influence on wearable devices, which are rapidly expanding into watches, glasses and clothing. According to market researcher Frost and Sullivan, the wearable device market is expected to reach US$37 billion this year. The smart contact lens market is expected to increase tenfold over the next four years.
"The government and the domestic medical industry have heavily regulated convergent medical devices. But as the recent push for deregulation is positive news to producers of convergent medical devices," an industry official said.
Global information technology (IT) companies are accelerating their moves to acquire related technologies. Google is ahead of the pack in this sector. Google already took the wraps off a prototype of its smart contact lens. Between the two films in the lens lie a very thin radio chip, a glucose sensor, an antenna, and a light emitting diode (LED) light, among others. When a diabetic wears this lens, it analyzes tear components in real time and notifies the wearer of the change of blood sugar. Google is also working with Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis in order to advance the product.
Latecomers are also competing to develop better products. Samsung Electronics filed a patent application for a contact lens for augmented reality (AR) in 2014, and is reportedly preparing a product to work with a smartphone.
Sony patented a contact lens that allows not only video recording and photo shooting but storage and playback with a blink of an eye.
Apple is also developing products and applications that empower users to enjoy AR by connecting them with an iPhone.
The LG Group is one of the latecomers but is said to have a high technological level. This is because LG Electronics, the Life Science Division of LG Chem, and LG Innotek have the technologies required for smart contact lenses. In particular, LG Innotek has acquired relevant technologies by participating in Google’s Smart Contact Lens project.
Korea is notorious for complicated regulations but is movingt to ease regulations in the convergent medical device sector. This has been fueling LG’s move in this sector. The 4th Industrial Revolution Commission referred to smart lenses for diabetics while announcing a policy to relax regulations for the convergent medical devices sector at the 4th Regulatory Reform Forum last month.
Korean companies have been showing a lukewarm attitude toward commercializing smart lenses for diabetics and convergent medical devices as they had to undergo much trouble in receiving licenses on both medical devices and drugs.
However, a new wind of change is blowing as the Fourth Industrial Revolution Commission has decided to create a permanent organization under the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to support companies’ licensing processes through technology consultation. LG Innotek urges the government to simplify the licensing of smart contact lenses for diabetic patients.