The home of innovation in the US, Silicon Valley, is always working to improve the things we take for granted, and now it’s the turn of the contact lens. There’s a startup that’s currently working on the “world’s first true smart contact lens,” which is trying to put a screen up against your eyeball so you can see the world in different ways. Mojo Vision is behind the innovation, and they were present at CES 2020 to show off their early prototypes and find partners for the next stages of development.
Looking to the Stars
The aim of Mojo Vision is to place a computer overlay onto your eye with a smart contact lens. It’s going to be able to enhance details and zoom in, offering to bring a whole new world to those with visual impairments. What was on display at CES was a prototype that currently has a monochrome and green display that hooks up to a large battery. They’re still looking for Food and Drug Administration approval so that it can actually be shipped and particularly, used for its intended medical purposes.
The actual tech comes in the form of a hard scleral lens, which has a bulging bit that will be placed ever so slightly above your eye. The display is claimed to be 14,000 ppi, to put that into perspective the iPhone 11’s display is 326 ppi. There’s also an image sensor, motion sensor, and radio to be built in, helping to stabilize and overlay the view. Mojo had everything read to show at CES, but they didn’t have a fully integrated and working prototype of everything together. What we were able to check out seemingly worked well, but no one was actually allowed to put it into their eye for full testing, and there is still the need for an external battery and processor. According to Mojo, users are going to need to recharge their lens through some proprietary system of induction charging, as well as disinfect their contacts each night.
What they were able to demo was how the contact lens could improve night vision, particularly for people who have issues in this area. They used an edge detection algorithm to show the ability to locate the placement of objects in a room, too. This was an effective tool, but it was on a large scale prototype rather than using the eye-sized piece of kit.
Peeking at the Pitfalls
Mojo is aiming to create everything that Google Glass wanted to be and failed at. It’s going to be a screen that will help you interact with the world, giving you information when you need it without the burden of having a phone in your hand or buds in your ears. The pitfall of Google Glass was the need for absolutely tiny technology, and Mojo will face the same challenge, but without the social hurdles of what Google Glass looked like. The lens won’t come as standalone, you’re still going to need to carry an extra bit of tech to give the data connection and processing power. There’s also a suggestion of using eye-tracking systems to control what’s being seen. When tried on the HTC Vive VR headset, eye tracking can get really tiring, although it’s claimed that users will get used to it without getting the headaches that can get reported.
Vision for the Future
The market is going to stretch across consumer and business markets, so say Mojo Vision, but the initial focus will be on people with visual impairments. $100 million has been banked in investment for the tech, which is still solidly sitting in the development phase. Timelines for launch are still unclear, but there are whispers from Mojo that it wants to be on the market within the next two years.
What could ultimately be the undoing of Mojo is the same as all other wearables; a lack of cross-platform interoperability. As a tool for the visually impaired, there is a unique user case to be made, yet in the broader consumer market, it’s going to take a lot of convincing to get people to wear a contact lens every day. There’s no word yet on what the cost is going to be, either, but it’s been confirmed that a user will need to get a new lens yearly.
There’s potential usefulness to Android users who will want to have their notifications flash up in front of their eyes without having to wear AR glasses. But, the iPhone segment of the market still wants access to iMessage, which is going to be tough to build in.
The biggest technological barrier has now been breached by Mojo, that of putting a tiny display into a contact lens. There are still questions of how something so tiny can function independently, and how well society will adapt to the idea of wearing AR contact lenses every single day.
This article was originally published By Jacob Kastrenakes and Ashley Carman in The Verge.