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Seamless AR on a contact lens

Patent for a contact lens embedding a display unit. Credit: Samsung

The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted a patent to Samsung for a contact lens embedding a display unit that can be used to overlay artefact images to the vision of the world, effectively achieving a seamless augmented reality experience.

Just imagine. You won’t need any cumbersome device to mediate your visual sense with the world of bits and the overlay of this world with the physical world will also be completely seamless. Samsung is proposing the idea of a contact lens filled with sensors that can detect where you are looking so that a microchip, somewhere on your body and most likely connected to the internet can overlay relevant information on what you see.

You could even thinking of using your eyelids for communicating with the microchip, blinking twice can mean get me the info, blinking again can activate some service and so on.

Moving from the idea (and patent) to a viable product is like saying that you have a glass of water in your hand and you want to create a lake. Powering the contact lens in such a way that is not harmful to your eye is clearly the first concern coming to mind. Technologies hurdles are many and assuming you can overcome all of them you will be facing social hurdles that are going to be no less challenging (are you going to like potential Peeping Tom all around you?, what about the gap opening up between those who will be able to afford those lenses, and valuabel services associated, and those who will not have access to them?).

The problem is that once technology becomes invisible all sort of issues come up.

My bet is that we won’t be seeing commercial product (in the mass market) in the next decade. May be in the following one.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

2 comments

  1. As much as I like the idea of truly wearable AR, this seems more like a “land grab” by Samsung than a real product.

    I do love the form factor, but there are so many hard challenges with a contact lens design. Assuming you can solve the obvious issues of miniaturization (especially battery size) and manufacturing, there are still some very thorny issues to deal with. These include:
    1. Power. The power density required would seem well beyond any current battery chemistry. And does anyone want Li-ion, prone to bursting into flames, in their eye?
    2. Heat dissipation. There should be less heat given the size and battery limitations, but AR-contact-induced dry eye will be hard to solve.
    3. SAR (Specific absorption rate). With, at the very least, wireless data connectivity, you’ll have a radiation issue. Given that a contact lens is touching soft tissue right in front of your brain, this will also be a difficult problem to solve.
    4. All of the above are non-trivial. However, probably the biggest challenge will be in getting such a device approved for consumer use. Groups like the FDA in the USA are already struggling to work with far less sophisticated wearables. Getting regulators caught up so a device like this can get approved could easily double your timeline.

    I did see a company with a hybrid contact lens + microdisplay. The lens was completely passive and used only to allow the eye to focus on the near eye display and the real world at the same time. In the near term, that approach seems a lot more practical.

    • I agree on the complexity and challenges. There may be alternative to the embedding of a battery, like scavenging power from the same radio signal conveying the data to the display…