A new milestone in AR technology: Functional Augmented Reality contact lenses

Augmented Reality contact lenses reached a new milestone last week. This shows how far the field has come in the previous few decades.

Thirty years ago, a group of people volunteered to try something for the first time. They put on an exoskeleton, put their face to an imaging system, and used their hands to interact with real and virtual objects in mixed reality. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) tested an augmented reality system prototype that lets users interact with virtual objects combined with the real world.

The system took up half a room and cost almost $1 million to build, but it worked, showing for the first time that augmented reality technology can help people do real-world tasks better.

AR technology reached a new milestone last week. This shows how far the field has come in the previous few decades. I’m talking about the first real test of a contact lens that adds information to the real world. It happened in a research lab at Mojo Vision in Saratoga, California. It wasn’t a simplistic bench test of big, wired-up hardware. No, this was a real test of an augmented reality contact lens worn by a real person for the first time.

Powerful, but not much room

As someone who is an enthusiast of augmented reality, Virtual Reality, and the Metaverse as a whole, I need to point out this important step. It is tough to make an AR contact lens.

When I tell people that, they usually think about the technology behind the screen. The idea of being able to fit a high-resolution display on a small, clear lens is scary, but it’s still the easiest part of the puzzle. The hardest part is that the tiny lens has to fit comfortably on a person’s eye, communicate to other devices wirelessly, and be fully powered with no physical cord. This is very hard to do, but Mojo Vision was able to do it in their most recent demo.

source: mojo.vision

Of course, the technology behind the screen is also spectacular. The company says that the Mojo Lens has a microLED display with 14,000 pixels per inch and 1.8 microns between each pixel. To put this in perspective, the Super Retina XDR Display on an iPhone 13 has 460 pixels per inch. In other words, the hardware for the Mojo Lens screen has about 30 times as many pixels as a new iPhone.

Also, these lenses have an ARM processor with a 5GHz radio transmitter, as well as an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer to track eye movements.  And it all goes right on your eye.

Not even that is the hardest part. I think that power is the most challenging problem to solve when it comes to making AR contact lenses. The company says that the Mojo Lens has micro batteries that are made for medical use. It’s not clear how long the prototype’s battery lasts right now, but Mojo says that their product goal is power management that lets the watch be worn all day.

AR is the way to go.

I’m sure there’s a long way to go from the prototypes we have now to the widespread use of low-cost contacts that give people all over the world interactive AR capabilities, but I’m sure this is where the industry is going. In fact, I think that AR eyewear, first as glasses and then as contacts, will outsell the mobile phone as our main way to access digital content within ten years.

Also, I think augmented reality will greatly impact society because it will turn digital assets from things we only use sometimes into things that are a natural part of our physical surroundings.

A few months ago, I wrote n article about google AR glasses development. In that article, I said Google isn’t far ahead of the AR game, and it will happen soon. But  Will this happen in the next ten years? Only time will tell.

But one thing is for sure: in the last 30 years, the technologies that make immersive AR technology have been developed at an impressive rate. In 1992, a room full of expensive Air Force equipment was state of the art, and now in 2022, tiny, clear lenses will fit on the surface of your eyes. 

And there have been a lot of big changes along the way, like the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap headset, as well as Pokémon Go and Snap AR.

With so much impressive engineering going on in labs all over the world, I can see AR replacing the mobile phone as the platform of our lives within the next 10-15 years.

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