We’ve become used to hearing about AR glasses. But what about AR contact lenses? For years, AR technology company Mojo Vision has been working on creating Mojo Lens, an AR-enabled smart contact lens.
Not only was Rome not built in a day; it also wasn’t built by one person. Mojo Vision recently announced that they will be working on realizing their ambitious vision with contact lens manufacturer Menicon. To learn more, ARPost talked with Mojo Vision’s Chief Technology Officer Dr. Mike Wiemer.
Mojo and Menicon
While AR technology has only been around for a few years and AR contact lenses are still a few years away, Menicon has been working in conventional contact lenses for over seventy years. Despite the company’s experience, they remain interested in exploring new frontiers. And there are no frontiers in the industry more exciting than those pursued by Mojo Vision.
“You can put a display into contact lenses. Full stop. You can do it. Check that box.”
“This agreement with Mojo is a key step forward in our expansion of Menicon’s technology initiatives,” Menicon President Dr. Hidenari Tenaka said in a press release earlier this month. “We believe that both companies can bring together skill sets and technologies that will support the successful development of a truly breakthrough product.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Mojo Vision CEO and co-founder Drew Perkins.
“While we continue making progress in developing our smart contact lens technology, our collaboration with Menicon will provide us valuable insights that can accelerate our progress,” Perkins said in the release. “Menicon’s team of seasoned professionals will bring significant contact lens research and development expertise to Mojo.”
The partnership is the result of a more casual organic relationship that has gradually developed between the two companies.
“Ultimately, the contact lens space is not big. It’s like every other community: everyone knows each other,” said Wiemer. “[The partnership] just sort of happened.”
AR Technology and Contact Lenses
The partnership between the two companies is the result of a situation that may not seem obvious when trying to wrap your head around the idea of an AR contact lens. AR technology seems so much more advanced than contact lens technology that it can be easy to forget that contact lenses have their own problems and offer their own solutions.
“When you first come to it, you realize how many problems there are,” said Wiemer. “There isn’t a single problem to solve, there are many problems and they all have to be solved harmoniously.”
One example that Wiemer pointed to was oxygenation of the cornea. The cornea doesn’t get oxygen from the blood like other parts of the body but rather from the air. A contact lens that didn’t allow gas exchange wouldn’t be able to be worn for any meaningful length of time.
“If you just said ‘make a really small display’, that’s only one part of the problem,” said Wiemer.
On the topic of multiple problems, AR technology isn’t just a display, there also needs to be a processor.
“In glasses, you try to put all of the compute in the frames. In a contact lens, you can’t put all of the compute in the lenses,” said Wiemer. “Clearly the two technologies are related but they aren’t one-to-one related; they’re conceptually related.”
Use Cases, Form Factors, and Competition
According to Wiemer, just as AR glasses and AR contact lenses aren’t one-to-one problems, they aren’t in one-to-one competition for the AR technology market. While some question when AR glasses will replace the smartphone, Wiemer points out that no one asks when contact lenses will replace glasses because the two technologies have different use cases.
Right now most AR glasses exist in an enterprise setting. In many cases, people in these settings need to wear glasses anyway for safety reasons. Why would anyone want to replace smart glasses with smart contacts only to put glasses on anyway?
The use cases that Wiemer is most excited about are those in which heads-up AR technology is desired but glasses are inconvenient. He specifically touched on athletics and fitness settings where athletes that would regularly wear glasses for vision correction wear contacts instead so that they aren’t wearing glasses in the field, while running, etc.
Vision correction, or vision augmentation, is another use case that Wiemer is excited to explore. Mojo Lenses could employ AR technology-enabled edge detection or contrast enhancement to help people with vision impairments in ways that regular glasses and contact lenses, or even AR glasses just can’t. These use cases have even helped to get Mojo Lenses “special device status” with the FDA.
“You Can Put a Display into Contact Lenses. Full Stop.”
The idea of AR technology-enabled smart contact lenses is an aggravating one. The same technology that makes it so exciting also makes it take longer to develop. The form factor that makes it so extraordinary also faces challenges like no other form factor out there.
“We’re still a few years away… I’m not going to be able to give you a date, in part because we do have a regulatory cycle,” said Wiemer. “I can say now, 5 years into it, you can do it. You can put a display into contact lenses. Full stop. You can do it. Check that box.”