The future of online browsing is represented by a smart lens that uses augmented reality.
People craning their necks to look at their phones is a common sight wherever you go. However, thanks to augmented reality, in the not-too-distant future we’ll probably merely stare at digital information hanging over the scene in front of us, taking in a blend of the real and digital worlds.
Numerous engineers are working to make that vision a reality at an ordinary office building in Saratoga, California. They produce prototypes of a smart contact lens that is packed with tiny circuits, batteries, and one of the smallest displays on a weekly basis.
I tried out the augmented reality smart contact lens from Mojo Vision in July by holding it about an inch in front of my eye and moving the lens to move a cursor around the area in front of me. I used a virtual reality headset to test out its eye-tracking technology and demo apps because I couldn’t wear the contact lenses. I was able to control a little cursor by merely moving my eye. I could use a digital teleprompter to read from as I moved my eye, and I could also glance around the space to see arrows pointing north and west that were intended to help users with outdoor navigation in the future.
I just needed to give a small tab next to the app a second’s extra attention in order to “click” on one of the apps dotted around the circle that was hovering in front of me. My top field of view was filled with numbers and text that, for example, displayed the weather, my cycling pace, or information about upcoming flights. I would glance away from the information for a full second before closing the app.
A decade after mobile devices replaced desktop computing as our main entryway to the internet, tech experts have been debating the next computing platform for years. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, is betting on the metaverse, a fully immersive virtual environment accessed through a headset.
However, I believe that augmented reality will be a more significant change, whereby glasses or contact lenses show information on the environment around us so that we can simultaneously perceive the online and physical worlds. Multitasking is one activity that people enjoy doing (although ineffectively in many situations). As we wear more and more electronics on our bodies, such as earphones, watches, and soon eyewear, the newest component of invisible computing, phones will resemble small servers that control all of these devices.
One of Silicon Valley’s most ambitious hardware projects right now, Mojo Vision’s lenses are an engineering marvel.
To enable an eyeball to breathe through an electronic lens, the business had to create its own chemicals and plastic compounds. When I held the lens in my hand, I could feel it was thick and big enough to cover some of the eye whites beyond the iris.
David Hobbs, the startup’s senior director of product management who has worn numerous prototypes, said, “It’s not uncomfortable.”
Nine pacemaker-style titanium batteries are included in the lens, and all the power and data are provided by a flexible circuit no wider than a human hair.
The pixels, which are compressed into just two microns, or around 0.002 millimeters, are magnified by bouncing light off a tiny reflector, replicating the mechanics of a telescope. That tiny display seems to be a pinprick of light from a distance of a few feet. However, as I looked more intently through the lens, I was able to view a video of Baby Yoda that was just as clear and interesting as any movie I had previously seen on a screen.
One day, I could see people using this to watch TikTok videos, but Mojo Vision wants the lens to serve actual purposes.
According to Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of product and marketing, the information that is displayed on your eye should be “very tight, fast, quick snippets.” Nevertheless, the business is trying to determine “how much information is too much information,” according to Sinclair, a former member of the iPhone development team at Apple Inc.
For the time being, Mojo Vision is developing a lens for persons with vision impairments that overlays bright, digital edges on items to make them easier to see. Additionally, it is experimenting with various user interfaces for a novel hands-free activity display with companies that develop running, skiing, and golfing apps for smartphones.
In less than five years, people might purchase a Mojo lens with a customized prescription, according to Sinclair, barring any regulatory holdups. Given that other augmented reality projects have either been delayed or, like Google Glass, failed to live up to the hype, that deadline may be considered ambitious.
The company that owns Google, Alphabet Inc., also failed to produce a smart contact lens for medical usage, but big tech companies have mostly been responsible for the creation of virtual and augmented reality. Later this decade, Apple aims to release its lightweight augmented reality glasses.
It also plans to introduce a mixed reality headset sometime in the coming year, which it presented to its board of directors in May.
According to a report published in the Verge in April, Facebook, which now controls the market for virtual reality headsets with its Quest 2 headset, is also preparing to introduce its first augmented reality glasses in 2024.
Why does augmented reality require more time? Because it combines digital and physical elements in a continually shifting image. That task is difficult and calls for a lot of computing power. However, in the long run, we’re likely to spend more time in augmented reality due to our desire to maintain at least one foot in the actual world.
The big question is how to balance being present in real life while constantly seeing digital information.
Nowadays, it only takes a few seconds to pull out a phone, open an app, and complete a task on the screen of the device. In the future, we’ll be able to open an app by simply giving it one more second of our attention. That will bring up a wide range of complex problems related to addiction and how we connect with the outside world.
When Sinclair was developing the iPhone, he claims the same question came up for him at the time.
I can’t say how we at Mojo are going to completely mitigate that, he said. But the trend is moving in that direction, that people are going to have instant access to information.
The human eye will reveal a world swimming in more digital information than ever before, whether with contact lenses or glasses. There will be a lot for our brains to adjust to.