Mojo Vision’s Smart Contact Lens Could Be Transformative For Sight Impaired

Mojo Vision, a Saratoga, California-based startup is seeking to improve the lives of people living with sight loss by launching a smart contact lens that can overlay information on the real world and augment what the wearer sees.

The sight enhancement wearables market has gathered significant pace over the past five years off the back of the widespread adoption of the smartphone, which has led to rapid advancements in mini camera and display technologies.

Nonetheless, manufacturers and consumers alike continue to be dogged by an eternal trade-off between form and functionality.

Virtual Reality-style headsets provide compelling viewing experiences but are socially undesirable and restrict the wearer’s mobility.

Slimline smart glasses, on the other hand, tend not to always be able to offer the immersion and advanced optics required to meaningfully enhance low vision.

Through its Mojo Lens device, Mojo Vision is seeking to overcome both of these technical hurdles one step at a time and help realize a decades-long dream for the visually impaired — to have an inconspicuous sight-boosting prosthetic that can be worn all day.

Due to the immense technical complexity, Mojo Lens is still in the research and development phase.

Seeing the big picture

Nevertheless, rapid progress has ensued since the company’s launch in 2015 and $160 million in VC investment has been raised to date, with the likes of NEA, Khosla Ventures, Gradient Ventures (part of Google’s AI organization) and Motorola Solutions throwing their weight behind the technology.

Silicon Valley backers have had their interest piqued because low vision enhancement is considered just the start of the journey for Mojo Lens, with a raft of additional industrial and mainstream consumer applications considered to be eminently feasible.

These may range from health monitoring to manufacturing and medical and emergency services, while some industry analysts are suggesting that wearable augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) solutions will increasingly take over from smartphones and desktop computers in the years to come.

The deliciously disruptive potential of the technology led to Mojo Vision bagging the Last Gadget Standing Prize at CES 2021.

Accelerated development

Presently, the company’s core focus remains low vision enhancement and there are key strategic and moral motivations underlying this.

The current iteration of the device deploys a microelectronic LED display, a computer vision image sensor and motion sensors, as well as a low-power wireless radio.

These are then paired with a neck-worn compute pack known as a relay to undertake the heavy lifting involved in data processing and streaming content to the lens.

Anything involving the placement of an electronic device directly onto the eye naturally requires significant regulatory oversight.

Therefore, by opting to initially focus on low vision rehabilitation, the company, which last year announced a joint development agreement with Medicon, Japan’s largest contact lens manufacturer, has been able to join the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Breakthrough Devices Program.

This should expedite the regulatory process by prioritizing the treatment of a condition identified as irreversibly debilitating.

Seeing differently

Initially, the device’s low vision enhancement options will be fairly basic but still helpful to visually impaired people in a variety of situations.

The primary functions will be contrast, lighting and edge enhancements, such as for curbs or entrances.

Zooming in and out will also be possible but the display on the first version of the contact lens will be monochrome. This will be useful for quick spot-checking tasks like magnifying text but will not yet yield rich full scene immersion.

The company is hopeful that such computation will come further down the line once the initial functionality is rigorously tested.

Dr. Ashley Tuan is an optometrist with a special interest in low vision and serves as Mojo Vision’s Vice President, Medical Devices.

“In the near future, we will have a color display for the device,” says Tuan.

“The battery life and screen resolution will improve too. This will give the wearer a discrete but immersive experience and help people with sight impairments to both maximize their visual function and be the person they want to be.”

Another clear advantage of the device’s tiny form factor and its proximity to the eye is the superior eye-tracking capability derived from having a motion sensor directly on the lens.

This will be helpful, not just for identifying what the wearer is looking at, but for health monitoring purposes including detecting concussion, the onset of migraines and the progression of chronic conditions like Parkinson’s.

To ensure the contact lens will be more than just a nifty wearable and provide real-world benefits for people with sight loss, last year Mojo Vision announced a partnership with Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a Palo Alto-based non-profit offering rehabilitation services.

“Within the next 12 months, we are hoping to test out our prototypes on patients with low vision,” says Tuan.

“We want to build a very natural control system and user interface for this group. This will be conceived based on patient feedback to create a highly usable experience.”

Hinting at what this may entail, she further adds, “We want to stay away from an external control interface, so we are looking at both eye control based on the direction the wearer moves their eyes and potentially voice control too.

“We have a lot of different concepts in mind, so we plan for low vision patients to evaluate them and tell us if we are heading in the right direction.”

Such user testing is likely to prove indispensable as Mojo Vision takes augmented reality into unchartered territory.

Currently, all assistive electronic wearables for sight loss, as well as mainstream consumer tech products developed by, or in the pipeline, from the likes of Google and Apple, are believed to be intended to be worn externally.

Using a contact lens logically implies all-day use. So, for people with low vision, it won’t simply just be about seeing more of the world but also learning to interact with it in novel and exciting ways.