In spy movies like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011), characters wore smart contact lenses that allowed them to accomplish tasks such as taking pictures and displaying messages. While this would definitely be a convenient device to have, we are nowhere near getting that kind of technology. Certainly, a lot of investment has been made by industrial giants to forward this concept, as it would be a game-changer in the technology market. Google announced 5 years ago began a project on a contact lens that would have certain “smart” properties. Although the project was canceled in 2018, the project had spurred great interest from industrial and healthcare players. Additionally, Sony filed a patent in 2016 for a contact lens that records what you see and Samsung was granted a patent last year for a contact lens that could act as a camera controlled by the wearer’s blinking.
However, all these have not solved the pivotal problem: To display information to the user in real-time through the lens. A new Silicon Valley startup, Mojo Vision, is trying to build the “world’s first true smart contact lens” by embedding a display within the lens. During CES 2020, Mojo Vision announced that it successfully integrated a display onto a contact lens. This is quite the impressive feat, as the resolution of a display so close to your eye requires an incredibly high number of pixels, all fitted within the small surface area of a contact lens. But not only does it contain a display, the lens also has various sensors and even a wireless radio. A small external pack will provide power, process sensor data and operate the display.
Photo: Mojo Vision
The demo definitely showed potential, but its actualization seems to be a distance away as the company still needs to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration to eventually ship to consumers, particularly for its medical use cases.
The ultimate goal of a smart AR contact lens is to have a screen capable of showing useful and timely information in a convenient manner. With a much more portable scale, smart contact lenses could avoid the societal barriers that Google Glass faced. However, it is very challenging to develop technologies into a thin, tiny and transparent device smaller than a penny. By completing the display, Mojo has already overcome one of the greatest hurdles in making wearable AR a reality. There is still quite a distance to go through, as the company will need to ensure that its eye-tracking and other operations work correctly for various people and environments. It also has to be comfortable and useful enough for people to want to wear contacts every day. Beyond all the technical challenges, to have the broad society to accept the idea of smart contact lenses with embedded cameras would also be a challenge, especially considering the ongoing trends of protecting people’s privacy while against technology.
Photo: Mojo Vision