Image courtesy of Mojo Vision

SARATOGA, Calif.—Earlier this summer, Mojo Vision chief executive officer Drew Perkins hit a milestone that was not widely noticed, at least outside of the vision care and optical technology communities. Perkins became the first person to wear the company’s smart contact lens, a “feature complete prototype lens,” during an internal test. The on-eye demo was significant because it “showed the contact lens can remain functional, without any wiring to the device, while being worn,” reports about the demo noted. In his own words, here’s what Perkins had to say about the unique experience: “Wearing the lens was inspiring. Seeing the future literally put me at a loss for words.”

There’s much more to the story—and the road to commercial viability—that Perkins and others detailed following the successful test a few weeks ago. Here, VMAIL Weekend will summarize some of the reactions to this milestone event and provide a little more background on the Mojo Lens.

Mojo Vision chief executive Drew Perkins summed up his feelings and excitement about the company’s smart lens with a post on the company’s blog just a few days after the June 23 demo was successfully completed. “When I ask people when they think they’ll see smart contact lenses being worn, I hear answers ranging from 10 years from now, 20 years, all the way to it’ll never happen. Turns out, the future is a lot closer than most people think,” he wrote. “In fact, the future is already here. I’ve seen it. I’ve worn it. It works. It all happened at Mojo Vision's labs in Saratoga, [Calif.], on June 23, 2022, and it was the first ever on-eye demonstration of a feature-complete augmented reality smart contact lens,” Collins noted.

The Mojo Lens is being developed to overlay monochrome images, symbols and text on users’ natural fields of vision without obstructing their view, limiting mobility or disrupting social interactions. The company, which in December 2020 entered a joint development agreement with Menicon, Japan’s largest contact lens company, also is working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through its Breakthrough Devices Program as it navigates the regulatory landscape.

(Note that Vision Monday’s Andrew Karp interviewed Mojo Vision’s Mike Wiemer in late 2020 to discuss the collaboration with Menicon. The interview can be read here.)

The Mojo Vision smart contact lens features a built-in display that gives the wearer timely information without interrupting focus. It is being developed by optometrists, technologists and medical experts. One of the goals for the lens is to ensure it delivers “information without distraction.” Mojo Vision has been working on the technology since 2015.

Following the successful demo earlier this summer, The Daily Beast was one of the few mainstream news outlets to note the milestone. The website reported, “While Mojo Lens were unveiled in March, they still required wires in order to function. Now that the lenses are wireless, the company has taken a major step forward in creating a commercially-viable AR wearable. The company has already partnered with the likes of Adidas in order to develop a potential application that’ll allow runners to track their distances, speed, and route. The wearable also has potential to be an extension to your phone or smartwatch too.” (Read the full review here.)

Collins also acknowledged the importance of eliminating the wires in his blog post, “The final technical hurdle to wearing the lens was ensuring that the power and radio communications systems worked without wires. Cutting the cord proved that the lens and all major components are fully functional and also reduced many of the technical challenges in building a smart contact lens. After completing preclinical testing and mitigating potential safety risks, I wore Mojo Lens. Much to my delight, I found I could interact with a compass to find my bearings, view images, and use an on-screen teleprompter to read a surprising but familiar quote. I experienced firsthand the future with Invisible Computing.”

Among the tech-driven media outlets, CNET provided a thorough review of the demo and its reporter’s experience with the lens. In part the review stated, “The company's only doing tests with one lens in one eye for the moment, although the next goal is to have two lenses worn at once for 3D visual overlays. After Perkins, who's still just wearing the lens intermittently for about an hour at a time for testing, other executives at the company will be trying the hardware. Perkins says these early stages are just trying to get the hardware on its feet: "We spent lots of time just validating and calibrating the radio, to make sure the radio is working," he says. "We're not doing extended-time testing yet. We'll get there." (Read the CNET review here.)

Another review was posted on the website Interesting Engineering, which had both a practice and technical view of the new lens and the demo. The website also asked the key question about the Mojo Lens, “When will they be available for purchase?” And then offered this response: “Short answer, not any time soon.

“The reason for this is not just improvements in technology alone. Mojo Vision has made some considerable progress in terms of technology to make this trial possible. Going forward, the major challenges will be more regulatory in nature.

Drew Perkins.

Even CEO Perkins needed to undergo preclinical testing and mitigate safety risks before putting the device on. So, before users at large get their hands on these smart contact lenses, Mojo Vision needs to demonstrate that they are safe and will need to conduct several clinical studies in the near future and get approvals from Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Mojo Lens also has plans to open up its device to app developers who will be able to add more features. So, users of upcoming trials will also provide inputs on the software and apps and how they perform on the device, which will be used to fine-tune the experience of using this device.”

In the end, Perkins provided the best update and overview of what’s been accomplished and what still needs to be done: “When I think about the collective effort that has gone into reaching this point, as well as the strength and talent of our team, I’m reminded of a saying by Helen Keller that seems incredibly relevant, ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’ After years of work, it’s incredibly gratifying to share this success with our team, investors, partners, and fans of Mojo.

"The ideals and principles we established for Mojo Vision in 2015 are coming to life, one milestone at a time. I’m excited about what's in store for our company and how we will continue to break down the technological barriers and advance the development of Mojo Lens and Invisible Computing. Eyes up!”