A Silicon Valley start-up is developing augmented reality contact lenses that will give users real-time information from the web, in the latest development in wearable technologies that aim to close the gap between man and machine.
Mojo Vision, an ambitious start-up that was founded in 2015 and has since raised more than $100m, demonstrated the technology last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, allowing visitors to look through a prototype as well as testing a simulation of the user interface.
The lenses look much like their traditional counterparts, but are packed with technology, including a micro-LED screen, a microprocessor, wireless communication and a variety of sensors. They are operated by eye movements, where users glance at functions on a “home screen” in order to select them.
Though the demonstration was limited to functions such as showing weather conditions and commute times, Mojo says it envisions a huge range of future use cases, including providing subtitles for conversations in foreign languages and fitness statistics for runners.
“It makes you smarter in the moment. It augments your memory. Or let’s say you have to give a speech: the transcript is right in front of you,” said Steve Sinclair, Mojo’s head of product and marketing. “Being connected to the internet means having access to any kind of service, [including] connecting to Alexa to give voice commands.”
The development of Mojo’s lenses comes as many of its bulkier predecessors have failed to take off. Google unveiled its Glass smart spectacles to much fanfare in 2012, but the device was plagued by privacy and cost concerns, while the broader smart glasses market has never gained serious commercial traction.
“Glasses are going to have a lot of limitations and the technology is exceptionally difficult — frankly there is still not a clear path to getting [smart] glasses,” said Drew Perkins, chief executive of Mojo.
By contrast, Mojo’s contact lenses — which are technically not quite “augmented reality”, in which an interactive world can be layered on top of the real one, but rather a digital display — are discreet and relatively simple to operate.
Once calibrated, the home screen — a green ring full of functions — is activated by glancing sideways, while options can be selected by looking at them. Holding a stare for a few milliseconds is the equivalent of a double-click, and another side glance dismisses the information.
The lenses do not have a camera and cannot record anything, but they are equipped with an image sensor that looks outward. With more development, Mojo said the sensor could recognise faces so it could pull up information about people and aid in conversation.
The lenses have limited computing power but instead connect to an external device. Mojo said it would not use Bluetooth, but rely instead on an unnamed, short-distance proprietary communication technology that it jokingly calls Mojotooth — something could make the device less appealing for owners of Bluetooth-equipped smartphones.
“Everything is about reducing the amount of power and compute required on the eyes, so we can power the device all day long,” said Mr Sinclair. “The goal is you put the lens on in the morning and you wear it all day. It’s off most of the day — but when you need it, it’s on to give you the information you need.”
Mr Perkins declined to give a timeline for when the product would be ready for consumers, but eye experts who tried the prototype lens were optimistic about its prospects.
“Mojo has made significant efforts making it safe for the eye, working with optometrists to make a viable product,” said Jeffrey Sonsino, former chairman of the American Optometric Association’s contact lens and cornea section. Having tried it, he called it “mind altering” — a “leap forward” in a field usually reserved for incremental change.
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