WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Smartphones won’t be around forever, hopefully, and one company is trying to position augmented reality contact lenses and the next great leap.
Spies want smart contact lenses, like this one that was developed recently, so they can do spy stuff, and, of course, shoot laser beams from their eyes. That last one’s a real thing by the way and the tech behind it is something called an ocular laser. It sounds fancy and it is, almost as fancy as this technology that one day could let you beam augmented reality and virtual reality experiences straight into people’s eyes. Now though a Silicon Valley start-up has demo’d a prototype augmented reality smart contact lens that can display a slew of information, such as the time, directions and even the speed you’re travelling, directly to your eyes. It’s like having a smartphone in your eye, but smaller and more comfortable.
MojoVision, which has raised more than $100m (£77m) so far, said the “Mojo Lens” contact lenses are operated by eye movements. For instance, a user wearing two lenses can “click” by concentrating on an icon to launch a music player, for example, and turn off by looking away or blinking.
“Mojo has a vision for invisible computing where you have the information you want when you want it and are not bombarded or distracted by data when you don’t,” said chief executive Drew Perkins.
In a closed session demonstration at CES 2020 where annoyingly the company didn’t let any journalists actually video the device, the company showed how the hard contact lenses could let users to see a virtual teleprompter that appeared floating in the field of vision by projecting a micro-LED display to the retina.
The functions are operated via a home screen, a green ring of applications that can be launched by focusing on the app you want and turned off by looking away. While the prototype at CES could not be worn and the applications demoed included weather conditions and commuting times, Mojo also outlined its vision for a range of advanced functions.
For instance, users could use the virtual overlay to recall the name and vital details of someone they meet at a party, which ironically they could do by tapping into a new facial recognition app from Clearview that I literally just wrote an article about. They could also use it to include subtitles when listening to a foreign language or get step-by-step guides to replacing machine parts.
At the moment the team are aiming for the battery life of the Mojo Lens to last around 25 hours, with the lens charging wirelessly when it’s placed back into its cleaning solution. Mojo also said it had no timetable yet for a commercial launch though, and the prototype was operated by an external battery.
That said though the lenses have already received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration as a “breakthrough” device to help people with visual impairments such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa.
“These are people who are underserved by technology today,” said Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of MojoVision.
The company said the lenses are designed to provide overlays that augment sight for people with “low vision” and may assist in mobility, reading and other functions. It will also be able to offer night vision in low-light environments.
The company will initially be testing their vision-enhancing applications with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in California, and one of the company’s ultimate goals is to let people to move away from physical devices and interact more naturally with technology.
One of the company’s main challenges though has been to pack into the lens the complex circuitry, image sensor, wireless radio and battery needed for the wearable device. But should those hurdles be overcome, then soon we could see the breakthrough that spy agencies and other companies, like Samsung and Sony, have been waiting to see for decades.