Mojo Vision is revealing a smart contact lens with a tiny built-in display that lets you view augmented reality images on a screen sitting right in front of your eyeballs. It’s an 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 still 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 — without requiring you to wear 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. I saw a monochrome picture of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out, but I still wondered why this display had 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 with 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. This would allow you to, for example, use an AR overlay to recall the name of someone who was approaching you.
“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 to show.”
The display uses MicroLEDs, a technology expected to play a critical role in the 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. This means MicroLEDs enable comfortable viewing outdoors.
Big plans for a little device
Mojo Lens promises to deliver the useful and timely information people want without forcing them to look down at a screen or lose focus on the people and world around them. In terms of mass production, Mojo’s Invisible Computing platform won’t be ready for a while, but the prototypes are coming together.
Over time, the company is striving to create lenses that look exactly like the 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 that makes information instantaneous, unobtrusive, and available hands-free.
“It’s a rigid, gas-permeable lens,” he said. “It is super comfortable because it sits on the white part of your eye.”
That’s like the hard contact lenses some people wear because they find the soft ones uncomfortable. The harder lens rests on your eye, rather than on your cornea (that is, it rests on the white part of your eye, rather than the part you see with). Mojo Vision plans to tailor each contact lens to fit the wearer’s eyes.
“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 … one of the secrets that makes this whole thing work, and why anyone who’s trying to do this … 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 holds patents for the development of an augmented reality (AR) smart contact lens dating back more than a decade. The company is currently demonstrating a working prototype of the device.
“We’ve had to invent almost 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 been in stealth.
Possible use cases
The Mojo Lens is designed to span a range of consumer and enterprise use cases. Additionally, the company is planning an early application of the product 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.
The company says 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 eye-tracking and image stabilization. The Mojo Lens includes the Mojo Vision 14,000-pixel-per-inch (ppi) display, which was announced in May 2019. The display delivers a pixel density of over 200 million ppi, making it the smallest, densest display ever designed for dynamic — or moving — content.
Mojo Vision CEO Drew Perkins said in a statement that the company’s goal for Invisible Computing is to give you the information you want when you want it without bombarding you or distracting you with data when you don’t want it.
Help for the visually impaired
The company also announced today that it is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the latter’s 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.
And Mojo Vision announced a new partnership with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a Palo Alto, California-based nonprofit that 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 Vision’s innovative technology and providing input to the company’s team of scientists and engineers.
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.
In turn, the partnership will help Mojo Vision bring 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 also showed me a demo of that technology. By wearing these contact lenses, people with low eyesight can better make out shapes such as street signs because the display recognizes what they are and visually enhances them.
This kind of application is what prompted the Food and Drug Administration to put Mojo Vision on its “breakthrough device” fast track. By receiving breakthrough device designation for the development of the Mojo Lens, the company will work directly with FDA experts to get feedback, prioritize reviews, and develop a final product that meets or exceeds safety regulations and standards.
With this technology, Mojo Vision is working to help the 2.2 billion people who suffer from vision impairment. The company hopes people with visual impairments will be able to use the contact lenses to do everyday activities like crossing the street. This aspect of the business also means Mojo Vision will have a medical device division.
Building a company
Mojo Vision 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 cofounded by Perkins, CTO Mike Wiemer, and chief science officer Michael Deering and is led by a team of Silicon Valley veterans from companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, HP, Microsoft, Motorola, Infinera, Agilent, and Marvell. The team includes medical device and optometry experts from companies like CooperVision, Abbott, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Philips Healthcare, and Zeiss Ophthalmology.
Mojo Vision was founded in late 2015 and 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 the ability to focus an image on the back of the user’s retina. The latest model has oxygenation built into it so you can keep it sitting on your eye comfortably for extended periods of time, Sinclair said.
When the product goes into production, you will visit your optometrist to 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 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 in which I looked 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 the technology could be used for all kinds of cool things, Mojo Vision has to be careful to make sure it isn’t used to spy on people à la James Bond. And it’s going to be some time 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.”
Mojo Vision has 84 employees.
This post by Dean Takahashi originally appeared on VentureBeat.