A new Silicon Valley startup is trying to build the “first true smart contact lens in the world,” placing a screen right in front of your eye, which can improve your vision of the world. The startup, Mojo Vision, displayed a very early prototype last week at CES and is now ready to start thinking about the production of the product
Mojo Vision aims to develop a smart contact lens that will support people with low vision by showing improved world overlays, sharpening colours or zooming in to help them see. But it looks like that truth is a way away. The prototype shown at CES included a green, monochromatic display that was wired to a large battery, and the company still needs the Drugs and food administration’s approval actually to sell to customers, especially for their medical uses.
Mojo’s technology is integrated into a robust scleral lens with a bulbous part that sits just slightly above the eye’s surface. Mojo Vision claims to have a 14,000 PPI display (for comparison, the iPhone 11 has a 326 PPI display), as well as an image sensor, motion sensor and radio that will be mounted to help overlay and stabilise images. Although Mojo displayed a lens that it claims all those components are also included, we did not demo a fully functioning device. The display technology worked when it was placed close to the eye— we were not permitted to install it — but an external battery and processor was required to run. Mojo says that people would need to clean their contacts nightly and refresh them through a patented induction system.
As part of the presentation, Mojo showed how a display placed over a person’s eye could help them see in the dark, especially if a person has already low vision. The demo relied on an algorithm for the edge detection to show where objects were placed in a room. It worked, but the touch was again on a more extensive base and was not working within the tiny form factor.
The main goal is to make the interaction a little like what was meant to be Google Glass: a screen that can give you “useful and timely information” without pushing you to take your phone out. A smart contact lens with its much smaller size could overcome a large number of the societal challenges that Google Glass initially faced; it only has the far more daunting challenge of building the software into an item smaller than a penny. The company says that people would actually have to wear a new device that would provide the contacts with the data connection and processor, and the team also suggested that people use eye tracking to monitor what they see.
Mojo Vision thinks its smart touch being sold to both businesses and consumers, helping people with vision impairments with the earliest versions. Mojo has raised over $100 million in funding to develop its software but is still in development for now. There is no precise timeframe for when it plans to hit the market with the first smart contacts. Though Mojo hopes the product will be launched within the next two years.
In the end, Mojo will face other wearables in the same pitfalls: interoperability issues between platforms. Its use case is unique and potentially useful for people with vision impairments. Still, it requires legitimate justification for the wider audience to make people want to wear contacts every day. (The company wouldn’t say how much it thinks such connections would cost, but it meant that every year people would have to replace them.)
Connected contacts for Android users who want updates in front of their eyes and don’t want to wear AR glasses could be helpful. But when it comes to iPhone users who wish to access to iMessage, Mojo could struggle like any other wearable one.
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Mojo has overcome one of its biggest challenges — embedding a tiny monitor on a contact lens — but it still needs to prove that the small form factor will function alone and prove that society is comfortable with the idea of AR contacts beyond that.