The Future of Contact Lenses: Augmented Reality

Contact lens technology has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the late 1800s. In 1888, German ophthalmologist Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick invented the first successful scleral contact lenses, which were made of blown glass. In 1961, Czech chemist Otto Wichterle made the world’s first hydrogel contact lenses. Fast forward to 2021, and augmented reality (AR) is about to make its way into contact lenses.

AR in contact lenses may seem like something out of science fiction, but Silicon Valley-based startup Mojo Vision has made it a reality.

The applications of augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that enables users to view the real world in a unique way. AR is an interactive experience wherein real-world environments are enhanced with digital or computer-generated information. AR modifies the real world by adding elements that you can see, hear, and even “touch” (haptic perception).

AR is a trend that has taken the tech world by storm over the last few years. Businesses have recognized the benefits of AR, and have begun using it to improve their products and services as well as boost the customer experience.

A well-known example of AR in action is the IKEA Place iOS app, which allows customers to test and see how furniture would look inside their homes without ever stepping foot in an IKEA store. 

Through Place, you use your iOS device’s camera to scan and measure the specific space in your home you want to put a piece of furniture in. After the scan is complete, you can browse through IKEA’s entire catalog and select the piece of furniture that you want to visualize in your space. A 3D model of your selection will appear on the scan, and you can position the furniture however you want. Place automatically scales the 3D model according to the dimensions of your space so that you get an accurate representation of how the furniture looks in your home.

AR also has a lot of beneficial applications in navigation, safety, aviation, healthcare and medicine. Mojo Vision wants to leverage AR to help millions of people across the globe with their augmented reality contact lenses.

Mojo Vision and the future of contact lenses

Mojo Vision is a science and technology startup based in California. At the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Mojo Vision revealed an early prototype of the augmented reality contact lenses that the company is developing called Mojo Lens. 

Curiously, though, Mojo Vision isn’t calling their technology augmented reality. Instead, the company is calling it Invisible Computing, a technology that enables you to see helpful information in real-time without interrupting your focus by having to look at the screen of your mobile device.

Although Mojo Vision only unveiled this technology in 2020, the company has been developing these contact lenses since 2008.

The prototype contact lenses unveiled in 2020 contained 14K-pixel-per-inch resolution microdisplays, image sensors, motion sensors, and even wireless radios. The prototypes had wireless power, but Mojo Vision says future generations of the lenses would contain batteries.

Mojo Vision demonstrated how the contact lenses worked by allowing people to use them. However, people couldn’t insert the prototypes into their eyes just yet—they had to look into the lenses to see how the AR was implemented. 

Anyone looking into the prototype lens would see the objects highlighted around them in bright green, even though the room was only dimly lit. The lenses also highlighted the facial features of people in the room.

These contact lenses may still be an initial prototype, but Mojo Vision is on the right track. Right now, the development of the contact lenses is progressing as planned and the Mojo Vision’s scientists and engineers are working hard to improve future versions of the Mojo Lenses. 

Mojo Vision has already partnered with several third-party vendors to enhance the different technologies used in the AR lenses. For instance, Mojo Vision is working with a manufacturer to create custom batteries for future iterations of the contact lenses. Mojo Vision is also working with a Japanese company to make the necessary adjustments to the materials that will be used to make the lens itself.

The power of the Mojo Lenses: helping the visually impaired 

It may be tempting to think about what your eyes could see while wearing Mojo Lenses. However, Mojo Vision isn’t developing the Mojo Lenses for the general contact lens-wearing population—at least for now. According to Mojo Vision, they want the first adopters of the Mojo Lenses to be people with low vision.

Low vision is a visual impairment that makes it difficult to perform everyday tasks like reading and driving. Low vision is different from other types of visual impairment, in that it cannot be corrected with prescription eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery.

Low vision is caused by certain genetic disorders, diabetes (diabetic retinopathy), eye injuries, and eye diseases, like age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

People who suffer from low vision tend to have poor peripheral vision, extremely blurred vision, night blindness, and contrast sensitivity issues, which is the inability to distinguish between light and dark textures. Mojo Vision wants the Mojo Lenses to improve the lives of these people by enabling them to carry out their daily tasks as normal.

Mojo Vision has developed several apps for the lenses that will be helpful to people with low vision. The current prototype lenses are already equipped with powerful magnification that would allow people with low vision to see images much more clearly. The lenses are capable of edge detection, which highlights objects in the user’s field of view with a bright green light.

Mojo Vision has also partnered with the Palo Alto Vista Center to further develop apps that will be useful for the Mojo Lenses’ first adopters. To get ideas for what people with low vision needed, Vista Center looked at their client base and selected people most appropriate for the technology.

Vista Center set up focus groups as well as one-on-one virtual meetings (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). From there, the developers At Mojo Vision got a better idea of what type of apps they could develop.

Although the plan is for people with low vision to be the first users of Mojo Lenses, Mojo Vision’s ultimate goal is for the lenses to be available to everybody. The company’s ultimate goal is to create technology that would replace smartphones.

The road ahead: further development and FDA approval

The Mojo Lenses are medical devices that require FDA approval, which is a lengthy process. A consumer-ready product won’t be available for a few more years, even though Mojo Vision already showed a working prototype in 2020. However, Mojo Vision says the lenses are under the FDA’s Breakthrough Device Program, which speeds up the approval process.

Furthermore, Mojo Vision is still hard at work on research, development, and testing. The startup is doing important work, which is why they’ve managed to secure millions of dollars worth of funding and investments from companies like Google, LG, Khosla Ventures, and Gradient Ventures.