Mojo Vision is revealing a smart contact lens with a tiny built-in display that lets you view augmented reality images on a screen that is right in front of your eyeballs.
It is an amazing achievement that just makes me say, “Wow. This is the future” I didn’t think we would really get to see this kind of technology in 2020, as it seems like something out of science fiction. Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of marketing at Mojo Vision, calls it Invisible Computing, a platform that overlays information on what you see in the real world, but without a huge gadget on your head.
Back in May, Sinclair showed me a screen that could display 14,000 pixels per inch, making it the smallest and densest dynamic display ever made. We were in a hotel room near the Augmented World Expo event. I saw a monochrome picture of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out, but I still wondered why this display enabled the company to raise $108 million in funding.
But this week, Sinclair invited me to the company’s headquarters in Saratoga, California, and showed me the contact lens that has the little display. I didn’t get to wear it, but I saw a prototype and demos of what you would see through the contact lens if you were wearing it. The demo showed simple green words and numbers hovering over objects in the real world. So you could use the AR overlay to recall the name of someone who was approaching you, without struggling to remember who it was. It’s like something out of science fiction.
“We have figured out how to take that world’s most dense display,” Sinclair said. “We have a medical-grade contact lens, supply power, and data. And eventually we will get to the point where we’ve got all sorts of cool gadgets tho show.”
The display uses MicroLEDs, a technology expected to play a critical role in the future development of next-generation wearables, AR/VR hardware, and heads-up displays (HUDs). MicroLEDs use 10% of the power of current LCD displays, and they have five to 10 times higher brightness than OLEDs. That means that MicroLEDs enable comfortable viewing outdoors.
Big plans for a little device
Over time, the company is striving to create lenses that look exactly like cosmetic contact lenses that make your eyes look a different color. The lens will have tiny little displays, batteries, and other components to fit a whole computer on top of your eyeball.
The company wants to enable a platform where information can be instantaneous, unobtrusive and available hands-free. A platform that will allow people to interact with each other more freely and genuinely.
“Its a rigid, gas-permeable lens,” he said. “It is super comfortable because it sits on the white part of your eye.”
“We want it to sit perfectly like a puzzle piece and it doesn’t rotate and it doesn’t slip,” Sinclair said. “And that’s the kind of that one of the secrets that makes this whole thing work and why anyone who’s trying to do this and they’re trying to do it with the soft contact lens is probably going to be miserable because normal contact lenses are always moving around and sliding around and slipping and rotating.”
Mojo Vision has been researching and developing its groundbreaking technology and holds patents for the development of an augmented reality (AR) smart contact lens dating back over 10 years. The company is currently demonstrating a working prototype of the device.
“We’ve had to invent most everything we put in the lens,” Sinclair said. “As you can imagine, we’ve invented our own display. We’ve invented our own oxygenation system, we’ve invented our own power data. We’ve invented our own ASICS (custom chips) and power management tools. We’re inventing our own algorithms for eye-tracking.”
Mojo is conducting feasibility clinical studies for R&D iteration purposes under an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. The Mojo Lens is currently in the research and development phase and is not available for sale anywhere in the world.
The company’s product development plans had previously remained in stealth.
How it could be used
The Mojo Lens is designed to be useful in many different situations, from consumer to enterprise. Additionally, the company is planning an early application of the product designed to help people struggling with low vision through enhanced image overlays. This application of the Mojo Lens is designed to provide real-time contrast and lighting enhancements as well as zoom functionality.
With its inconspicuous contact lens form factor, Mojo Lens is designed to serve as a low vision aid that could remain discreet for the wearer and allow a hands-free experience, while delivering enhanced functional vision to assist in mobility, reading, and sighting.
In businesses and organizations, the Mojo Lens is being designed to give workers or specialists access to real-time information, greatly improving productivity, precision, and compliance without having to look down at a mobile device or through an awkward, vision-blocking headset that limits situational awareness or discourages social interactions.
The Mojo Lens incorporates a number of breakthroughs and proprietary technologies, including the smallest and densest dynamic display ever made, the world’s most power-efficient image sensor optimized for computer vision, a custom wireless radio, and motion sensors for eyetracking and image stabilization. The Mojo Lens includes the Mojo Vision 14,000 pixels per inch (ppi) Display, announced in May 2019. The display delivers a pixel density of over 200Mppi, making it the smallest, densest display ever designed for dynamic — or moving — content.
Drew Perkins, CEO at Mojo Vision, said in a statement that the company’s vision for Invisible Computing is to give you the information you want when you want it. It won’t bombard you or distract you with data when you don’t want it, he said.
Help for the visually impaired
Mojo also announced today that it is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through its Breakthrough Device Program, a voluntary program designed to provide safe and timely access to medical devices that can help treat irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions.
Today, Mojo Vision also announced a new partnership with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a Palo Alto, California-based nonprofit which offers rehabilitation services to more than 3,000 children and adults with blindness or impaired vision each year. Through the partnership, Vista Center clients will play a direct role in defining Mojo’s innovative technology and providing input to the company’s team of scientists and engineers.
In turn, Mojo will be able to deliver better, more user-friendly devices to market, contribute to vision rehabilitation, and improve the quality of life for Vista Center clients and others with similar needs. Sinclair showed me a demo of that technology too. By wearing these contact lenses, people with low eyesight can make out shapes such as street signs better because the display recognizes what they are and visually enhances them so that the viewer can see them much more clearly.
The Food and Drug Administration put Mojo Vision on its “breakthrough device” fast track because it can help people with low vision see. By receiving breakthrough device designation for the development of the Mojo Lens, Mojo will work directly with FDA experts to get feedback, prioritize reviews, and develop a final product that meets or exceeds safety regulations and standards.
Sinclair hopes it can help the 2.2 billion people who suffer from vision impairment. The company hopes the visually impaired can use the contact lenses so they can cross streets, as the lenses can highlight edges or magnify objects for those who can’t see well. This part of the business means that Mojo Vision will have medical device side of the company.
Building a company
Mojo Vision so far has raised over $108 million in investments from NEA, Shanda Group, Khosla Ventures, Advantech, Gradient Ventures, HP Tech Ventures, Motorola Solutions, LG Electronics, Liberty Global, Fusion Fund, and others.
The company was co-founded by CEO Drew Perkins, CTO Mike Wiemer, and chief science officer Michael Deering, and is led by a team of Silicon Valley veterans from companies including Apple, Amazon, Google, HP, Microsoft, Motorola, Infinera, Agilent, and Marvell, among others, as well as medical device and optometry experts from companies including CooperVision, Abbott, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Philips Healthcare and Zeiss Ophthalmology.
Karae Lisle, executive director of Vista Center, said in a statement that the technology partnership offers a chance to improve vision rehabilitation and improve the quality of life for the center’s clients.
The company started in late 2015. It built the first lens with wired power and a single LED light in 2017. Then it moved to wireless power and a new optical system with an ability to focus an image on the back of the user’s retina. And the latest model has oxygenation built into it so that you can keep it sitting on your eye comfortably for extended periods of time, Sinclair said.
When the product goes to production, you will visit your optometrist, get your eyes measured, and then Mojo Vision will cut the lens to fit the shape of your eyes. I’m taking a guess, but that’s probably not going to be really cheap.
“Eventually, the lens will have motion sensors like accelerometers and magnetometers so that we can do eye-tracking on the eye, figuring out what you are looking at,” he said. “We require orders of magnitude less power. The goal is to get this to one milliwatt of power.”
I did a demo where I could look at different objects in order to interact with the screen. I had to look to the left, for instance, to click on a page and then look at an arrow to make a selection. That sounds weird, but I was using my eyes to control the screen. You may be able to get the data for the computing from a necklace that you wear, which would be wirelessly connected to your eyeball computer. You might also be able to control the screen with your voice.
“We’re all about visibility, mobility, being able to use it anywhere,” he said. “A lot of our effort over the next couple of years is going to add to the software part of what we are doing.”
While it could be used for all kinds of cool things, the company has to be careful to make sure the tech isn’t used to spy on people, in a kind of James Bond style. And it’s going to be a while before this kind of display can be used to play video games.
Sinclair added, “We’re building out a medical device company. We’ve got the innovation of a tech company, the discipline of a medical device company, and we’re pulling all of that together into one company, which is not easy.”
The company has 84 employees.
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