Mojo Vision Will Power Its Smart Contact Lens With An External Compute Pack – Forbes
The Mojo smart contact lens, due to ship within the next few years, boasts 14,000 pixels per inch packed into a sand-grain-sized display that beams directly into your eyes’ fovea, the tiny part in the center of your eye with the greatest concentration of retinal cones: your natural photoreceptors.
That’s 70,000 pixels in a half-millimeter display.
All sandwiched, of course, inside a safe, comfortable, prescription contact lens.
The Mojo Vision smart contact lens will come with an external compute pack with a CPU and GPU.
But how does Mojo plan to put computer vision, augmented reality, a high-end micro-LED display, a broadband radio for communications, inertial measurement sensors, and a thin film solid state battery inside something that fits smoothly and gently on your eye? The answer is that it won’t. Or, rather, Mojo isn’t planning to jam everything inside the lens. In order to get sci-fi like augmented reality from a screen that fits on your eye, you’re going to need to wear an external compute pack.
A puck, if you will.
Or, as Mojo senior Vice President Steve Sinclair calls it, a relay.
“There is a compute device that we’re building,” Sinclair told me in a recent episode of the TechFirst podcast. “We, internally, we call it a relay. It’s something you wear around the neck that communicates with the lens, and that relay accessory has an application processor and a GPU and batteries, of course, and storage. And so it runs applications there and it’s streaming content to your eyes and pulling sensor data off your eyes to compute what the next frame of information you need to see is, in under, you know, just single digit milliseconds, to make it all seem fresh and performant.”
As science fiction as the concept of AR-capable smart contact lenses is, it’s not far out or the next next thing for Sinclair. Most of the technology community sees mobile as the current dominant computing platform and smartglasses as the probable successor, with visors and Oculus-style headsets as intermediary stages. But Sinclair points out that hundreds of millions of people need vision correction today, and 140 million wear contact lenses globally.
That means there’s a huge market right now for even an early-stage product that provides vision correction … and more.
“We don’t think of [smart contact lenses] as the next, next thing,” Sinclair told me. “We think of it as the thing that can actually be right around the corner. There’s a lot of talk about needing to do smart glasses first and then you go on to contact lenses, but the market for eyewear isn’t like that. We all have contact lenses and glasses today.”
The first shipping Mojo lenses will correct vision. They will also know where you’re looking and be able to highlight features like the edges of sidewalks for those with acute vision deficiencies. They’ll also be able to present readable text: something I’m looking forward to for when we’re meeting at conferences again and I need notes for a speech.
And yes, even video.
Listen to the interview behind this story:
The Mojo lenses will be able to do that, Sinclair says, because they’re frugal. Most smartglasses and VR headsets waste power and pixels because they compute scenes and light up photos in areas you’re not paying attention to.
Also, Mojo has different priorities than today’s VR sets, for example.
“We’re not trying to recreate reality,” he says. “Having the right information at the right time is what’s critical for us.”
That means contrast enhancement: adding lines and edges to curbs or doors. It means highlighting people and their faces. It also means vertical-specific solutions like heads-up information for nurses, technical specs and instructions for service techs, or mapping and instructions for firefighters in rescue situations. It means staying focused on the real world and not letting smart contact lenses be yet another place where the digital world bombards us with notifications.
The Mojo Vision smart contact lens
“We coined the term ‘invisible computing’ a couple years ago as we were starting to peak out of stealth,” Sinclair says. “It’s a category that we hope to build and to lead, which is all about making the technology disappear. We want to be able to have the information we want when we want it, but at the same time stay focused in the real world. So when you and I are having a conversation, there isn’t a bunch of tech on my face getting in the way between me and you. We’re trying to build a solution that doesn’t bombard you with information. We’re not trying to start with something that is going to constantly be on, constantly be bothering you, constantly be interrupting. We want it to be invisible, to disappear when you don’t need it, but be there in the moments that you do.”
In other words, it’s technology that doesn’t put a screen between you and other people, like smartphones, like VR and AR headsets, and like smartglasses could.
But it’s all possible on a contact lens because of the relay: the Mojo compute pack that, Sinclair says, you’ll wear around your neck. The contact lens will offload processing tasks there to the GPU and CPU, and, thanks to its close proximity, the compute pack will stream visual content to the lens with almost no lag.
Mojo is building an operating system for this new computing platform as well, an “eye OS” perhaps in place of today’s iOS and Android. A big component of what that makes possible is in the health tech space: looking into the eye, analyzing your blood, sensing fatigue, understanding when migraines are coming, and more.
“There’s just a lot of information that can be gathered and gleaned, literally, from being on a part of the body like the eye,” Sinclair says. “And so what we see ourselves doing over time is taking our baseline medical device capabilities of helping people with low vision, and increasing that and broadening that out to a lot of other health and wellness capabilities that go way beyond the augmented reality world that we all want to see.”
There’s no definitive word on an actual commercial release, and since it’s a prescription medical product, the FDA will have to approve its safety and efficacy. Mojo is testing current prototypes, and the next generation will be ready this summer.
I’ve volunteered to beta test.
Get a full transcript of our conversation here, or subscribe to TechFirst here.
I forecast and analyze trends affecting the mobile ecosystem. I’ve been a journalist, analyst, and corporate executive, and have chronicled the rise of the mobile
I forecast and analyze trends affecting the mobile ecosystem. I’ve been a journalist, analyst, and corporate executive, and have chronicled the rise of the mobile economy. I built the VB Insight research team at VentureBeat and managed teams creating software for partners like Intel and Disney. In addition, I’ve led technical teams, built social sites and mobile apps, and consulted on mobile, social, and IoT. In 2014, I was named to Folio’s top 100 of the media industry’s “most innovative entrepreneurs and market shaker-uppers.” I live in Vancouver, Canada with my family, where I coach baseball and hockey, though not at the same time.