XR Startup Mojo Vision Builds Smart AR Contact Lenses
The US startup Mojo Vision is developing the augmented reality contact lens but the company still faces some hurdles that it will have to overcome. The startup is well-funded and is currently in the process of seeking FDA approval for its product to be put to medical uses.
Until now, the conversation around augmented reality hardware has been about the miniaturization of the AR devices to create AR glasses that will be light, slim and indistinguishable from normal glasses. While contact lenses have been mentioned along the same lines, implementation of AR in contact lenses has always been deemed to be too technically complex to be realizable at the moment. Innovations have mostly focused on the realization of the standard spectacles.
This is why Mojo Vision’s contact lens-based AR device is quite a breakthrough and takes the pursuit of wearable tech to unimaginable levels of innovation. The company has been working on the technology for several years and has so far notched up $108 million in funding. Some $58 million of that funding was raised in a Series B funding concluded in March last year.
During the CES last week, an early prototype of the XR contact lens device was showcased behind the scenes to selected US tech news outlets including TechCrunch.
Integrating augmented reality into a contact lenses is a very compelling and complex undertaking. According to TechCrunch, the demos so far are a far cry from the company’s conception of the eventual in-eye augmented reality contact lens.
The two demos by the company involved the user holding a lens or the device close to their eyes rather than wearing a contact lens. This was done to give users a feel of what the eventual tech might look like. According to the company, most of the development work is still going on off-device and Mojo Vision is working to refine and develop a system that can be fitted within a contact lens.
But how do you charge an immersive device that is worn as a contact lens? According to Mojo, the contact will only have to be charged once within a 25-hour cycle. Given this was only a CES brief CES meeting, the invited journalists did not get an opportunity to try out the contacts.
Mojo Vision has integrated the display with a pixel density of 14,000 ppi as well as an image and motion sensor along with a mini radio. All this is fitted within a hard scleral lens. The contact has a bulbous part that is slightly above the surface of the eye. The image sensor, motion sensor and radio will help in overlaying and stabilizing the images.
During the closed-door demo, Mojo stated that early prototype it showcased had all these components although the team of invited journalists did not get an opportunity to demo a fully working AR contact lens unit.
When the display unit was held close to the eye, it seemed to work. The testers were not allowed to insert it into their eyes. The display that was shown required a large external battery as well as processor in order to run. Mojo says that users will need to constantly disinfect their contacts every night and that charging will be via a proprietary induction system.
During the demo, Mojo Vision showed how the display can be used to see in the dark, especially for someone with low vision. The demo leveraged an edge detection algorithm to show the user the position of objects in the room. This demo worked too but the display had been placed on a bigger base and was not functioning within a tiny form factor as envisioned by the company.
Mojo Vision eventually hopes to make its contact lens like Google Glass was intended to be, a screen capable of showing the user useful and timely information without relying on the smartphone.
The tinier size of the smart contact lenses also means it could bypass the many social hurdles faced by Google Glass which faces the technical challenge of fitting its tech into a tinier object. Mojo Vision says users are likely to wear extra accessory to offer data connection as well as a processor for the contact lenses. The startup also suggested users would leverage eye tracking to control what they were seeing.
Mojo sees the smart contact being used by both businesses and consumers. The first versions will be targeting people with vision impairments. The startup has so far raised over $100 million that goes into building its tech. At the moment, the tech is still in development. The startup hasn’t provided any timeline within which its first smart contacts could be launched in the market but it’s hoping to release the device in the next two years.
Eventually, Mojo Vision may still face the issues that other wearable tech grapple with such as the problem of interoperability across platforms. While there is a justifiable use-case for the contacts for people with vision impairments, the company still needs to find a viable use-case for people with normal vision that will make them wear the contacts on a regular basis.
While Mojo Vision did not divulge the costs, it said the lenses would have to be replaced every year.
Its connected contacts could be used by Android users who prefer to have notifications in front of their faces without having to wear augmented reality glasses. While the startup could see success with Android users, it could face challenges with iPhone users requiring access to iMessage.
Will AR Smart Contacts Gain Social Acceptance?
For the time being, Mojo appears to have overcome its biggest technical challenge; that of embedding a minute display into a contact lens. The next challenge will be demonstrating how this tiny form factor will work on its own and whether its AR smart contacts will find greater buy-in with mainstream users. The device still has to be approved by the FDA for medical uses.