Human wears augmented reality contact lens for the first time

Three decades ago, the first group of human subjects interacted with a mixed reality of real and virtual objects. They did this by climbing into a large upper-body exoskeleton, pressing their faces against a ceiling-hanging vision system, and manually performing tasks that required using both physical and simulated objects. They were testing prototype augmented reality system at Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), known as the Virtual Fixtures platform. The hardware filled half a room and cost nearly $1 million, but it worked – for the first time that showed AR can improve human performance in real-world tasks.

Last week, an important new milestone in AR was reached, and it shows how far technology has come over the past 30 years: the first authentic test of a augmented reality contact lens† It was conducted in a research lab at Mojo Vision in Saratoga, California. No, it wasn’t a rough bench test of oversized hardware with dangling wires. This was a real test of an AR contact lens worn directly on a human’s eye for the first time.

A very difficult technical challenge

As someone who has been involved in AR from the beginning, I have to emphasize the importance of this new milestone. Building a wearable augmented reality contact lens is an immensely difficult engineering challenge. When I say this, people usually ask about the display technology† Sure it’s hard to fit a high-resolution screen on a small transparent lens, but it’s not the most challenging piece of the puzzle. The more difficult problem is that this tiny lens, which must sit comfortably on the human eye, must communicate wirelessly with external devices and be fully powered without any physical tether. That’s a daunting task, and yet it’s something Mojo Vision achieved in their last demonstration.

We will look back to the years when people walked down the street with their necks bent, staring at small screens in their hands as an absurdly primitive way of dealing with information.

Louis Rosenberg

According to Mojo Vision, the prototype lens contains medical-grade micro batteries. It’s unclear what the battery life is for the current prototype, but according to the company, their product goal is: power management that allows all day wear.

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Of course, their display technology is also impressive. According to the company, the Mojo Lens has a 14,000 pixel-per-inch MicroLED display with a pixel pitch (the distance between adjacent pixels) of 1.8 microns. For context: an iPhone 13 with a Super Retina XDR display has 460 pixels per inch solution. In other words, the Mojo Lens hardware has about 30 times the pixel density of a current iPhone. Additionally, these lenses include an ARM processor with a 5GHz radio transmitter, along with an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer to track eye movements. And all this is directly on the human eye.

AR contact lenses are the future

Still, many years of development will be needed to move from today’s prototypes to mass-market consumer products that immersive AR capabilities to people all over the world. I predict that AR glasses, first as glasses and then as contact lenses, eventually replace the mobile phone as our primary interface to digital content. Furthermore, I believe that augmented reality will completely change our relationship with information, transforming digital content from discrete artifacts that we selectively access to seamless features of our physical world.

A few years ago I wrote a futuristic piece called “Metaverse 2030which shows what life will be like when AR contacts become commonplace – a world where mainstream consumers are equipped for new contacts when they sign up for a mobile plan. When that day comes, we will look back to the years when people walked down the street with their necks bent, staring at small screens in their hands as an absurdly primitive way of dealing with information. Will this happen in the next decade? Time will tell, but Mojo Vision’s achievement brings us one big step closer.

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