Augmented Reality Contact Lenses: Will They Ever Be a Reality?

Are augmented reality contact lenses on the horizon?

Augmented Reality Contact Lenses Will They Ever Be a Reality - XR Today News
Augmented RealityInsights

Published: June 7, 2024

Rebekah Carter

Rebekah Carter

Imagine a world where you didn’t need to wear a bulky headset or set of smart glasses to interact with augmented and mixed reality. That’s the vision innovators want to realize with augmented reality contact lenses. For years, companies have been experimenting with ways to embed immersive technologies into smaller screens and systems, but AR contact lenses still seem like a distant dream.

The potential of AR contact lenses goes far beyond simply giving us a new way to access immersive experiences on the move. Early pioneers in this market have championed the idea of augmented reality lenses to enhance our vision, monitor health, and even assist with medical care, like treating diabetes. So, why does it seem like we’re not making any progress?

The simple answer is that progression is happening, just slower than we’d hoped. The good news is that augmented reality contact lenses could still become a reality.

What Are Augmented Reality Contact Lenses?

Augmented Reality contact lenses are exactly what they sound like. They’re contact lenses that feature augmented reality technology enhanced by tiny screens and processing chips.

Smart contact lenses, as they’re otherwise known, can display information to our corneas without the need for glasses and headsets. On the one hand, these lenses could represent a new era for extended reality experiences, allowing us to tap into metaverse environments without weighty headsets like the Apple Vision Pro or Meta Quest.

For years, AR vendors have been experimenting with ways to make their smart glasses more stylish, comfortable, and lightweight. A switch to AR contact lenses could be the ultimate ergonomic improvement. But the opportunities go further than that.

Innovators believe high-tech contact lenses will transform the healthcare market, too. For instance, in 2023, Azalea Vision announced the introduction of its “ALMA” lens, a solution that uses AR and smart technology to treat visual health issues.

In the future, Black Mirror-style smart contact lenses could even be developed to record and transmit what a wearer sees to a cloud-based data storage system. It’s a bit of a scary thought, but the (virtually limitless) potential is definitely there.

The Challenge: Creating AR Lenses Isn’t Easy

So, why aren’t augmented reality contact lenses globally accessible? Why do we only occasionally see scientific reports and press releases about this tech? There are a few reasons, starting with how difficult it really is to create an augmented reality contact lens.

Embedding intelligent AR experiences into contact lenses means implementing tiny screens, chips, and technology into an incredibly small surface. The micro LED screens used on cutting-edge smart glasses might seem pretty slick, but imagine how hard they’d be to insert into your eye.

We just don’t have the right technology yet. This is evidenced by Mojo Vision, a company that was previously leading the AR lens landscape. In 2020, the firm showcased a prototype version of their Mojo Lens at CES. Though the team had certainly made breakthroughs with their 14,000 pixel-per-inch screen system, the lenses still needed to be connected to an external battery.

That’s not exactly ideal for something you’re going to be wearing in your eye. Later, in 2022, Mojo posted a video showcasing a feature-complete prototype, with on-board power and communications features, worn by CEO Drew Perkins. However, extensive user testing and analysis, alongside software application prototyping, were still necessary.

Since then, Mojo Vision has announced it’s scrapping the project entirely. They said that they’re pivoting their business focus for a few reasons. Mainly, they were running out of money. They couldn’t find the funding in a problematic economy to continue experimenting with a yet-to-be-proven product for an uncertain market.

Would Augmented Reality Contact Lenses be Successful?

Even if Mojo Vision had been able to access the funding it needed to continue with research and development, would its AR lenses have been a success? It’s difficult to know. As mentioned above, there’s definitely a lot of potential out there. However, how comfortable people will actually be with augmented reality contact lenses remains to be seen.

Certainly, we can all see the benefits of using AR in contact lenses to improve vision and tackle health problems in a “non-invasive” way. But do we really want to be able to see informational overlays and interact with digital content using contact lenses?

How distracting would it be to have this information placed in front of us at all times? How would it affect people who suffer from virtual reality sickness? Even wearing basic smart glasses for too long can give me a headache; AR contact lenses seem like a recipe for migraines.

Then there’s privacy concerns to think about. If people are already worried about the amount of data captured by XR devices, how will they feel about AR contact lenses, particularly if those lenses can record and transmit data?

The Progress Happening in the Market

Despite the complexity of the challenge and the uncertainty of the market for augmented reality contact lenses, progress is still being made. It’s just not happening at breakneck speed. Leading companies like Meta and Apple are pouring billions into mixed reality development.

Tech developers are working on ever-smaller screens and chips. We’re even seeing new vendors stepping into the AR market with new visions for the future.

Right now, most of the progress in this market is linked to creating technologies that will actually allow companies to make AR lenses without bulky screens and batteries.

One area where augmented reality contact lenses seem to be gaining the most attention is in the healthcare space. Following previous experiments with AR lenses for vision and health improvements, researchers and scientists are exploring new opportunities.

The researchers from NTU Singapore, for instance, have developed a battery system that could power the future of AR contact lenses. The slim, flexible battery is powered by a saline solution (and could also be powered by human tears). This could eliminate the need for toxic materials and intrusive wiring in future intelligent contact lenses.

Blink Energy, another tech innovator, is also making progress on a system that should support AR lens development. At the beginning of 2024, the company showcased its BlinkIT contact lens. The firm said it’s working on making contact lenses and ocular technology more user-friendly and efficient than ever before.

The groundbreaking technology uses an ergonomic patch placed within the epicanthic fold of the eyelid to power smart lenses. When positioned on the eyelid, the patch essentially establishes a connection between a lens and a connected device.

When Will Augmented Reality Contact Lenses Appear?

Unfortunately, while progress is happening, it’s slow. We don’t know when augmented reality contact lenses will emerge in the market – or even if they ever will. At MWC in 2024, XR display team XPANCEO generated some potential hype.

They showcased four prototypes for smart contact lenses, including one with exceptional extended reality capabilities. The lenses, designed based on research from 40 engineers and scientists from leading European and Spanish research institutions, could signal a breakthrough.

The XR lenses, for instance, seemed to allow users to access features like health monitoring and content surfing capabilities. They even promised users ways to interact with immersive video calls, gaming applications, and social media.

According to the company, the prototypes represent a significant step forward in the future of AR lenses. However, while the firm forecasts that it will develop an all-in-one smart contact lens by 2026, we don’t know if it will be successful. Clearly, other companies have tried and failed in the past.

AR Lenses: The Future of Augmented Reality?

At this stage, the future of augmented reality contact lenses is extremely uncertain. It’s difficult to know whether the innovators in this space have access to the technology, funding, and market demand they need to make these solutions a success.

However, it’s worth noting that the same could have been said of mixed reality headsets like the Apple Vision Pro and VR systems like the Meta Quest 3 in the past. Progress is constantly happening in the XR space, and new opportunities are emerging constantly.

One day, AR lenses might be as common as AR glasses. Perhaps smart lenses will simply become a new option in the healthcare landscape, assisting opticians in addressing visual problems.

Either way, the AR market will continue to evolve. As it does, it will introduce us to new worlds and experiences we once only imagined.

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