After more than two years of teasing, augmented reality startup Mojo Vision has confirmed that "invisible computing" means what we've suspected all along.
That's right -- the company is working on smart contact lenses, and it claims to have a working model in testing. On Wednesday, Mojo Vision announced the appropriately named Mojo Lens, the first smart contact lens capable of overlaying information in the wearer's field of view.
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Mojo Lens is comprised of the embedded 14K PPI Display that the company unveiled at AWE 2019 along with embedded sensors for eye tracking and image stabilization. The monochrome display and sensor assembly are covered with a thin cosmetic iris to mask the display components while matching the wearer's eye color. The display and cosmetic layers are housed between two rigid gas-permeable lenses, with the layer closest to the eye serving as the prescription corrective lens.
The Mojo Lens pairs with an accessory (worn on the user's head or around the neck) that supplies power and data wirelessly and includes an energy-efficient image sensor optimized for computer vision. In a briefing with Next Reality, company representatives noted that they plan to integrate a bio-safe battery into the lens that will provide all-day wear, as well as upgrade the display to full color.
"After extensive research, development, and testing, we are excited to reveal our product plans and begin sharing details about this transformative platform. 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. The technology should be helpful, and it should be available in the moment and fade away when you want to focus on the world around you," said Drew Perkins, CEO at Mojo Vision, in a statement provided to Next Reality. "The Mojo Lens is the first step in delivering Invisible Computing to the world. We look forward to sharing more information and demonstrating future prototypes as we get closer to bringing our product to market."
Despite the company's documented progress, there are a few caveats. Since contact lenses are considered medical devices, Mojo Lens is subject to approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since FDA approval is pending, any user demos are highly restricted to holding the lens in front of them to show how it works rather than placing it directly on a reviewer's eye. To date, only company employees have worn the device on their eyes.
However, Mojo Vision has an inside track via the FDA's Breakthrough Device Program, a process for hastening the process of getting cutting-edge medical technology to the public.
"Receiving the Breakthrough Device Designation is a significant step in our research and development process. We look forward to continuing our work with the FDA to ensure our solution is safe and effective, and that we can bring the Mojo Lens to market and assist people with vision impairment," said Perkins. "This designation continues our work towards developing a product that can truly impact people's lives in a positive way."
Once approved, Mojo Vision has its sights set on visually-impaired users as its first market. In addition to its form factor, Mojo Lens is designed to benefit users with low vision by providing high contrast overlays and enhancements to lighting in real-time from images captured by the sensor embedded in the wearable accessory. To assist in this endeavor, the startup has forged a partnership with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a nonprofit organization that provides rehabilitation services for blindness or impaired vision to more than 3,000 children and adults annually.
Further down the road, Mojo Vision plans to pursue enterprise applications, where hands-free access to real-time information would improve productivity. The company believes that Mojo Lens would have a particular advantage as a solution for customer service, hospitality, and similar operations where the presence of a head-mounted display might be awkward.
"At the end of the day, we're building a full system for heads-up display augmented reality content that shows up in front of you and allows you to interact with it," said Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of product and marketing at Mojo Vision during an interview with Next Reality.
However, the lens is just part of the "invisible computing" equation. Mojo Vision doesn't want a user experience as ubiquitous as the ever-intrusive notification systems of modern computing — a nightmare illustrated by Keiichi Matsuda's short film Hyper Reality.
"A lot of our time has been spent on trying to define what the user experience ought to be when you bring a display this close to the eye," said Sinclair, whose product launch experience includes several generations of the iPhone, multiple Motorola smartphones and accessories, and the Palm Treo. "We want you to put this on in the morning and see the information you want throughout the day, but we wanted it to be off most of the time, and we want the system to be smart enough to bring up the information at the right time and suppress information and interruptions when you don't want to see things."
For nearly as long as the concept of augmented reality has permeated science fiction, the premise of smart contact lenses has been something of a holy grail, presumed to follow smartglasses in the evolution of the technology.
While it would appear that Mojo Vision is one of the first companies to seriously approach this milestone, it's also evident that we're still a ways off from truly experiencing the tech with our own eyes. And, as they say, seeing is believing.