The “eyes” have it, literally.
Someday, when you walk down the street, an augmented user interface will appear like a floating screen over your real-life surroundings. You can discreetly see your heart rate, glucose reading, a weather forecast, real-time translation or map. Or maybe the name and title of the person you’re about to run into.
You may think that I am describing Google Glass or some other type of bionic shows visible to the outside world. What he is wearing is something much more discreet and taken directly from “Mission: Impossible – Phantom Protocol”: a pair of intelligent corrective contact lenses that you can control with eye movements and subtle gestures.
In an off-site hotel room during last week’s CES trade show in Las Vegas, I received an early demonstration of the Mojo lens, announced as the world’s first “true smart contact lens” (The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency o DARPA has reportedly showed interest in an intelligent contact lens developed by the engineering firm IMT Atlantique in France).
Patented lenses remain a developing prototype of a Silicon Valley startup backed by companies called Mojo Vision. One of the main investors is Google Gradient Ventures; Alphabet, Google’s father, had worked and then stopped a project involving a glucose-oriented smart contact lens.
The commercial availability of the Mojo lens is probably two years away, with the most immediate use cases in the business space: areas such as retail, medicine, public safety and hospitality.
Watching in the dark
Eventually, however, the hope is that any consumer can use versions, even those of you that do not necessarily need to correct bad vision.
The lenses also promise to help anyone who has low vision problems, and during one of my demonstrations, I was able to distinguish people and objects in a dark room.
Now, I didn’t really use contacts; Mojo established other elaborate ways for me to “look” through the lenses.
In one case, I used VR-type headphones that gave me the experience of selecting menus and items on the screen, initially keeping my head steady while my eye was looking towards the periphery. I found it more challenging than learning a new computer mouse.
Suffice it to say that there is no way to know at this time how comfortable they are, but these are standard scleral-type lenses that use rigid and gas-permeable materials and other polymers that, in theory, should anyway make them feel the same in your eye like similar non-smart lenses. A scleral lens is designed to jump over the cornea and rest on the “white” of the eye (the sclera). It is commonly prescribed for people with irregular corneas or dry eyes.
You could use normal saline eye drops. Contacts will be personalized and prescribed by an optometrist or a regular ophthalmologist.
But the Mojo lens also contains a small 14K-ppi screen, which Mojo Vision claims is the smallest and densest screen ever designed for that purpose.
So that you are not afraid to put the electronics in your eye, the company says that the whole system is safe and will not consume much energy, with the small radio inside that transmits microwatts that are many orders of magnitude smaller than any of your mobile phones or other devices.
Mojo is working closely with the Food and Drug Administration, which must give its final approval: the lenses are classified as medical devices. The FDA granted Mojo Lens a designation of “Innovative Device,” which will likely accelerate the process through clinical trials and so on.
And Mojo announced a partnership with the Vista nonprofit Center for the blind and visually impaired in Palo Alto.
Make computing invisible
The company is driving the concept of “invisible computing,” where it has the data it wants when it wants it, but they are not bombarded or distracted with data it doesn’t need.
The idea is that you won’t look weird in the outside world either.
Smart sensors will help the smart lens determine when not to bother you, such as when you are reading a book, focused on work or driving, says Steve Sinclair, a former Apple executive who is now Mojo’s senior vice president of products and marketing. Such a sensor might be able to detect when you are sitting in front of the wheel of a car, for example.
In addition to eye gestures, the company says it will be able to control the lens interface with voice commands. Eventually, you can also listen to audio, when appropriate, not directly from a loudspeaker in the lens, but through a Mojo wireless accessory that you can wear hidden inside a helmet, hat, visor or collar.
The system uses a patented wireless system to pass data from the contact lens to the accessory. Use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to move data from the accessory to your smartphone and 5G or Wi-Fi to send data to the cloud.
How much will smart lenses cost?
For now, Mojo does not say how much these smart lenses will cost, but it is almost certain that he will pay a higher premium than he currently pays annually for contacts.
It is also not clear what insurance companies will pay, if there is anything, for these premium lenses, or how Mojo will spend the cost of replacing lost or broken lenses to the consumer. Some contact lens wearers know all too often that they can get out of their eye.
The company estimates that the lenses should last approximately one year before they have to be replaced and that the battery life should last all day.
Eventually, Mojo could produce different colored lenses to attract people who wear contact lenses for cosmetic purposes. It is also likely that beyond the different recipes that each of us have, the “smart” capabilities of the Mojo lens will differ from what the neighbors can do. There could even be a curated app store one day, full of what you want to do, play through your contacts.
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