A single contact lens could give your entire life a head-up display
Mojo Vision's smart contacts put text in my eye and let me see in the dark. The company is aiming for even more than that.
There aren't many meetings in Las Vegas during CES that still make my jaw drop. The few I can think of mostly involved Oculus. I had no idea what a company I've never met with before, called Mojo Vision, was going to show me. I knew they made very, very small displays. I knew the company was pursuing some sort of AR contact lens. They weren't even officially a part of CES. You can see why I was intrigued.
At a suite at the Palazzo hotel in Las Vegas, I approached a table where a single contact lens lay in a case. This lens had some circuitry embedded in it, and at the center, there was a tiny dot. I held the lens in my hand. This was it. Without a doubt, the smallest piece of tech I've ever demoed.
I didn't actually get to stick this lens in my eye. Mojo wouldn't allow it yet. Instead, I held up a transparent plastic wand with the lens mounted on it. I held it very, very close to my eye, as I stared at a projected screen in front of me. And through a pin-sized glowing green dot, I saw text, displayed in a demo loop. The time. A sports score. The weather. Health data, like heart rate. A message, as if sent from a friend. It was like the world's smallest pair of smartglasses, right in my eye. A smart contact lens. This is what Mojo Vision is gunning for, and it feels... well, it feels like tech that came from the year 2020.
'We didn't want to get overhyped and show something that was just vaporware,' says Steve Sinclair, vice president of product and marketing at Mojo Vision. Sinclair has a background that includes the original iPhone launch at Apple, and vice president of product marketing at Motorola Mobility during the launch of the Moto 360, Moto Hint earbuds, and Moto X under Rick Osterloh (now head of Google's hardware).
Mojo Vision's team has backgrounds from companies across tech and health care, including Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Philips Healthcare, Zeiss Ophthalmology and Johnson & Johnson. 'We've been hard at work creating the world's first true smart contact lens, and by true we mean it really builds in all the capabilities of a solution that you can wear all day, and project augmented reality information to the wearer whenever you need it,' Sinclair said.
What, exactly, is going on here? Mojo Vision, a company founded in 2017, has been in stealth for years, promising a seemingly impossible set of smart AR contact lenses. After showing off the display tech at CNET last year, this is the first time the company's smart lenses have been revealed. Mojo Vision is still years away from its goal of a viable consumer-ready, FDA-approved version of its lens. What I'm looking at is the very first prototype demo of the Mojo Lens, a preview of the first of several steps the company wants to make before these are ready.
These contact lenses won't just display text; they'll sense objects, track eye motion, have an eye-controlled interface that will access data like a smartwatch or smartglasses, and... they'll see in the dark. They're not just meant to give everyday people James Bond powers in their eyes; they're really looking to assist people whose vision impairment could use help, like those with macular degeneration.
'We've been very focused on this concept we call invisible computing,' Sinclair says about Mojo Vision. 'Which is the idea that I get information when I need it, and the technology fades away when I don't.'
The extremely high-density monochrome MicroLED display inside Mojo Vision's lens feels impossibly small. When I look at text, I can see the pixels, but it works for basic information. Mojo's planning for a multicolor display next, and with two lenses in, images could be stereoscopic. My single-lens experience is more like an incredibly shrunken-down version of single-eye smartglasses. It's like Google Glass, but actually in my eye. CNET looked at Mojo Vision's microscopic 14,000ppi MicroLED display last year; you can see it up close that story, but in my demo I wasn't allowed to look at the tech under a microscope.