A science fiction vision is emerging. On Tuesday, startup Mojo Vision detailed its progress on a small AR display that it integrates into contact lenses, providing a digital layer of information overlaid on what you see in the real world.
The centerpiece of Mojo Lens is a hexagonal screen less than half a millimeter wide, with each greenish pixel just a quarter the width of a red blood cell. A “femtoprojector” – a small magnification system – magnifies the imaging optically and diffuses it to a central area of the retina.
The lenses are surrounded by electronics, including a camera that captures the outside world. A computer chip processes the images, controls the display, and communicates wirelessly with external devices such as a telephone. A motion tracker that compensates for the movement of your eye. The device is powered by a battery that charges wirelessly overnight, like a smartwatch.
“It almost works. It’s very, very close,” said Mike Wiemer, chief technology officer, detailing the design at the Hot Chips conference. The prototypes have passed toxicology testing and Mojo expects a full prototype this year. The company expects an autonomy of one hour for its first product. “We are getting closer to that number,” he said.
Mojo’s plan is to skip the goofy hats, like Microsoft’s Hololens, which have started incorporating AR. If this is successful, Mojo Lens could help people with vision problems, for example by describing letters in text or making the edges of sidewalks more visible. The product could also help athletes see how far they have cycled or how fast their hearts are beating without checking other devices.
AR, short for augmented reality, is a powerful technology that injects computational intelligence into glasses, smartphones, and other devices. The technology adds a layer of information over real-world footage, for example, showing a backhoe operator where cables are buried. So far, however, AR has mostly been limited to entertainment such as showing a movie character on a real-world phone screen.
Mojo Vision still has a long way to go before its lenses hit the shelves. The device will have to overcome the regulators and overcome the social discomfort. An earlier attempt to include AR in search giant Google’s glasses, called Google Glass, failed as people worried about what was saved and shared.
“Societal acceptance will be difficult to overcome just because it will be almost invisible to the person who doesn’t know it,” said Anshel Sag, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
But a low-profile contact lens is better than bulky AR headsets, Wiemer said: “There’s a challenge here in making these things small enough to be socially acceptable.”
Verily, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, tried to make a contact lens capable of monitoring glucose levels, but ultimately abandoned the project.) Another competing effort is Innovega’s eMacula AR eyewear and contact lens technology.
Miniature electronics in your eye
A key part of the Mojo lens is its eye tracking technology to monitor your eye movement and adjust imaging accordingly. Without eye tracking, Mojo Lens would display a static image fixed in the center of your vision. If you were to cast your gaze, instead of reading a long line of text, for example, you would just see the block of text moving with your eyes.
Mojo’s eye-tracking technology uses accelerometer and gyroscope technology taken from the smartphone industry.
The Mojo lens relies on an external device, called a relay accessory, to process and control images and provide a user interface.
The screen and the projector do not interfere with your view of the real world. “You literally can’t see the screen at all. It doesn’t impact your view of the real world,” Wiemer said. “You can read a book or watch a movie with your eyes closed.”
The projector broadcasts images only to the central part of your retina, but the images are tied to your ever-changing view of the real world and change as you redirect your gaze. “Everywhere you look, the display content is there. It really makes you feel like the canvas is endless,” Wiemer said.
Why computerize contact lenses?
The startup chose contact lenses as their AR display technology because 150 million people around the world already wear them. They are lightweight and do not fog up. When it comes to AR, they will work even when your eyes are closed.
Mojo is developing its lenses with the Japanese contact lens manufacturer Menicon. He has so far raised $ 159 million from venture capital firms including New Enterprise Associates, Liberty Global Ventures and Khosla Ventures.
Mojo Vision has been demonstrating its contact lens technology since 2020. “It was like the smallest pair of smart glasses in the world,” said my colleague Scott Stein after holding it very close to his face.
The company did not say when it would ship a product, but said on Tuesday its technology was now “fully functional,” meaning the company has all the necessary ingredients, including hardware and software.