It took seven years for Mojo Vision to get where it is today: a complete smart contact lens in an internal prototype that’s now ready for real-world testing and is the company’s first real candidate. for a releasable product.
Apparently, inventing the future is not easy.
The vision (groaner) is immense: a smart contact lens that could eventually replace smartphones, smartwatches, augmented reality glasses, even virtual reality headsets. It’s a big ask, and it took some serious science, engineering, and iteration to get to even a potential first product.
Currently, the Mojo smart contact lens offers:
- a 14,000 pixel-per-inch MicroLED display, the world’s smallest at just 0.5 millimeters in diameter and the densest with a pixel pitch of just 1.8 microns, according to the company)
- 5GH ultra-low latency radio for streaming AR content
- continuous eye tracking via accelerometers, gyroscopes,
- medical grade lens built-in batteries
- eye-controlled user interface
The contact lens connects to an external controller that you might wear like a necklace, where all the heavy stonework happens. It uses a proprietary 5 GHz radio because Bluetooth is too slow and has too high latency. And the optics include a “tiny Hubble-like inverted Cassegrain telescope” built into the lens. The result is eye tracking that’s a 10x improvement over anything available today, and the ability to create an eye-controlled user interface.
“It’s basically about giving you superpowers,” Mojo VP Steven Sinclair told me recently on the Tech First Podcast. “We are building the world’s first true augmented reality smart contact lens. So something that you could put on your eye, see the content when you want to see it, make it disappear when you’re not using it, to look like yourself and be engaged in the real world.
It took time to get there.
Mojo Vision debuted in 2015 and raised eight funding rounds totaling $204 million. Investors include Amazon’s venture capital fund, Stanford’s StartX fund, Motorola, LG, Khosla Ventures and a who’s who of venture capitalists.
But the finish line may be closer than you think. Sinclair won’t commit to a launch date, and there are FDA regulations and testing that will influence that, as well as internal company testing and iterations. But it’s not a “way out into the future,” he says.
“We’re finally there with something we call a ‘complete’ goal,” Sinclair told me. “It basically means that all the technical elements are brought together in one system that we can wear, try and test.”
The seven years are simply due to the challenges involved. The microLED display had to be invented essentially from scratch, as did the control system and the optics that focus light from the display onto the back of your retina. Building a lens that doesn’t twist was also important: if the lens moves around your eye or rotates when you blink, everything you see can end up 97 degrees from vertical, and turn your head sideways. to read it would not help.
As it stands, however, the company claims to have fixed these issues.
“It’s literally content floating in space around you,” Sinclair says. “We can lock it down. So it could be world-locked, so you can see content right, left, down, up, and down wherever you want to watch. And it’s up to you when you put that content online, and when you don’t want to see it anymore, everything disappears and you just watch the world.
Athletes might like it to see routes and performance data. Technicians might like it to see schematics covering aircraft engines or construction superstructures. Anyone who uses a smartwatch or smartphone today might appreciate it for faster and more accessible data delivery or augmented reality experiences than they can get from existing devices. And those with limited vision can use it to highlight hazards and routes, Mojo says.
It requires a relay accessory, as mentioned above.
The relay has a processor, memory, a GPU to run the display, and a radio to communicate with the smart contact lenses. (Plus Bluetooth, presumably, for communicating with a phone.) The relay is what pulls eye-tracking information from the smart lens and determines where to stream the data in your field of vision.
“Most of the apps we use run on an accessory that you also wear on your body somewhere near your head,” Sinclair explains. “We call it a relay accessory. It could be built into a hat or a helmet, it could be built into a pair of safety glasses, it could be built into a neckerchief. And so, that’s probably the form factor we’ll start with. It should be relatively close to the eyes because the transmission power of the lenses is not particularly high.
As for recharging your smart contact lenses?
They charge overnight, like a smartwatch, in the cleaning/charging case.
The lenses themselves are hard lenses and they are scleral lenses. This means they don’t rest on the cornea, the clear front part of your eye through which you see, but on the sclera, the whites of your eyes. This makes them more comfortable, says Mojo, because the cornea has lots of nerve endings — which is why poking the eyes is so painful — but not the whites of your eyes.
“We measure your eye when you come to your optometrist and we get the shape of that eyeball,” Sinclair says. “It’s not perfectly round. It has a lot of ridges and bumps and such, and we’ve cut the inside of the lens to match the shape of your eye so it sits very comfortably. So it’s a bit bigger than what people think of when they think of hard contact lenses or soft daily disposable lenses. But it is quite comfortable for the eyes because it was cut like a puzzle piece to match your eye.
Interestingly, vision is only part of the plan for this smart contact lens.
Mojo also works on checking tear fluid on your eyes, measuring intraocular pressure, or detecting early glaucoma. The eyes are a great platform for health sensors, Sinclair says, and that’s on the menu along with enhanced vision and data delivery via AR.