Having not had a chance to see Mojo Vision’s latest smart contact lens for myself until recently, I must admit that I expected the company to be years away from a working contact lens with more than just a simple notification light or a handful of static. pixels. Looking through the company’s latest prototype, I was impressed to see a much more capable prototype than I expected.
When I came in Mojo Visions demo suite at AWE 2022 last month, I got a hard contact lens that I assumed was a mock-up of the technology the company hoped to eventually shrink and fit into the lens. But no… the company said this was a functional prototype and everything in the lens was real, working hardware.
The company tells me that this latest prototype includes the “smallest” MicroLED display in the world – at a minuscule 0.48mm, with only 1.8 microns between pixels – an ARM processor, 5GHz radio, IMU (with accelerometer, gyro and magnetometer), “medical-grade micro batteries,” and a power management circuit with wireless charging components.
And while Mojo Vision’s smart contact lens is still much thicker than your typical contact lens, the company showed last week that this prototype can work in a real human eye, with Mojo Vision CEO Drew Perkins as the guinea pig†
And while this looks pretty scary when worn in the eye, the company tells me they’re not only thinning it out, but also covering the electronics with cosmetic irises to make it look more natural in the future.
At AWE I couldn’t put the contact lens in my own eye (Covid be damned). Instead, the company had the lens attached to a tethered stick that I held to my eye to see through it.
When I did, I was surprised to see more than just a handful of pixels, but a full graphical user interface with plaintext and interface elements. It’s all monochromatic green for now (utilizing the human eye’s ability to see green better than any other color), but the demo clearly shows that Mojo Vision’s ambitions are more than just a fantasy .
Despite the physical display in the lens itself being opaque and right in the center of your eye, you can’t really see it because it’s just too small and too close. But you can see the image it projects.
Compared to any HMD in existence today, the Mojo Vision smart contact lens is particularly interesting because it moves with your eye† This means that, despite a very small field of view of 15°, the screen itself moves with your view as you look around. And it’s always sharp no matter where you look, because it’s always above your fovea (the middle part of the retina that sees the most detail). Essentially, it’s like having a ‘built-in’ display. A limited field of view remains a bottleneck for many usage scenarios, but if the screen actually moves with your eye, the limitation is at least alleviated somewhat.
But what about the imports? Mojo Vision has also been working steadily to figure out how users will interact with the device. Since I couldn’t place the lens in my own eye, the company instead put me in an eye-tracking VR headset to mimic what it would be like to use the smart contact lens itself. In the headset, I saw much the same interface that I had seen through the demo contact lens, but now I could interact with the device with my eyes.
The current implementation does not limit the entire interface to the small field of view. Instead, your gaze acts like a “spotlight” that reveals a larger interface as you move your eyes. You can interact with parts of the interface by holding your gaze to a button to do things like the current weather or recent text messages.
It’s an interesting and hands-free approach to an HMD interface, although in my experience the eyes themselves aren’t a great conscious input device because most of our eye movements are subconsciously controlled. With enough practice, it’s possible that manually operating your gaze for inputs will become as simple and seamless as using your finger to operate a touchscreen; in the end, some other form of input might be better, but that remains to be seen.
This interface and input approach is, of course, entirely dependent on high-quality eye-tracking. Since I haven’t been able to set up the lens for myself, I have no indication whether Mojo Vision’s eye-tracking is up to the task, but the company claims its eye-tracking is an “order of magnitude more accurate than the leading [XR] optical eye-tracking systems.”
In theory, it should work as well as they claim – after all, what better way to measure the movement of your eyes than with something physically attached to it? In practice, the device’s IMU is presumably as prone to drift as any other, which could be problematic. There is also the matter of extrapolating and separating the user’s head movement from sensor data coming from an eye-mounted device.
if the company’s eye-tracking is just as accurate (and accurate) as they claim it would be a big win as it could enable the device to be like a real one AR contact lens capable of immersive experiences, rather than just a smart contact lens for basic information display. Mojo Vision does claim that it expects its contact lens will eventually be able to do immersive AR, including stereoscopic viewing with one contact in each eye. In any case, AR won’t be very usable on the device until a wider field of view is achieved, but it’s an exciting possibility.
So what’s the roadmap to actually getting this thing on the market? Mojo Vision says it fully expects FDA approval to be required before they can sell it to anyone, meaning that even if everything is functional from a technical and function standpoint, they’ll need to conduct clinical trials. As for when all that could be completed, the company told me “not in a year, but for sure” [sooner than] five years.”