Why Don't We Have Smart Contact Lenses?

Why Don't We Have Smart Contact Lenses?

Imagine a world where you look across the street and get directions or see information on heart rate while cycling without looking down. All could be possible with smart contact lenses, a sci-fi movie scenario that’s becoming more and more of a reality. Samsung, Google and Sony have experimented with smart contact lenses since 2014 with hopes of them taking photos and video with a blink of an eye or measuring your glucose levels and today dedicated US optics companies are testing their prototypes. Some that could display notifications like how your smart phones would or give you timely information without interrupting your focus.

According to Mike Wiemer, Chief Technology Officer of Mojo Vision – “ Whether you are delivering person or somebody working to put parts together being able to have those directions in a eyes up and hands free environment is important. Surgeons with real time bio-metrics of the patients, there’s some retail prototypes that we’re looking at, can someone be able to interact with a customer with just eyes up in the moment making eye contact and yet know that they’re asking about they’re actually two more back in the stock room”. This all sounds cool but we’re still years from getting these contact lenses into our eyes why? It all comes down to the tech medical approval and market value.


Let’s start with tech which has to be really tiny. Nanotechnology for smart contact lenses wasn’t readily available until the early 2000s but even with the technology implementing it comes with the challenges. This concept is straight forward but the most difficult part is to figure out how do you do engineering to put everything together. So companies had to carefully consider which type of contact lens is to use as their base and build the technology from there. Mojo Vision uses Scleral lens with all the technology embedded inside the lens and a wearable neck devices as the processor on the other hand Innovega uses a soft lens with a polarizer filter that pairs with glasses that handle most of the technology but each type of contact lenses comes with its own difficulties. As per Mojo Vision, they have identified that the best container lens platform to meet their need is the Scleral lens platform because of the rigidity of it is actually protective to your eye and it provides the stability once it is on the eye. It is not so popular because it has been difficult to manufacture. Every lens you can consider it being custom made so it takes more time to fit the lens and takes more time make the lens however recent years thorough lens became more popular because they realized that now it’s easier to make, now it’s easier to fit.



Meanwhile at Innovega they started with scleral lens which is hard shell. “The difficulty that was perceived was so great but then we really saw the value and it needs to be a soft lens. And that even took us in a different path with polarizer” – statement by Innovega. After figuring out manufacturing issues and the tech behind the polarizer both the companies had to make sure that their contact lenses were superior performance, gas permeable, biocompatible which leads us to the next challenge. 


Now it comes to medical approval. Since the smart lenses are considered as a medical device, they need to be approved by FDA. If someone is making a claim then they have to prove that they do that. You try to figure out if there is anything that could be potentially harmful. After verifying the physical and chemical properties of the lens material through multiple pre-clinical tests the companies can move on to clinical trials. And then there is specific animal testing that you need to do. And those companies are looking at ocular irritation, skin sensitivity etc. If everything is passed then they can consider for human on eye testing.

Currently both companies are at phase II. They are conducting a number of phase two clinical trials to verify their design and compare it to other marketed lenses so that they know where they stand. The companies are trying to mitigate the risk and both the companies are looking for whether it is comfortable, whether the functionality is working as intended. The last part is to effectively introducing the product to the market. 



A few reasons Google glass wasn’t popular was because of its high price tag, awkward display and video recording capabilities. But Mojo Vision and Innovega are not in a rush to appeal the masses. They are helping a specific market first and then growing from there. There would be many customers like visually impaired, sports analytics and sport performance enhancements etc. Any one of them would like to hand free experience. Mojo Vision hasn’t come up with a price tag or release date yet, but Innovega says that its smart contact lens could receive market clearance by the end of 2021 and its smart contact lens could cost about the same as daily disposable lenses with glasses from $3000 to $5000. But the companies expects the price to decrease over time once it can produce larger quantities.


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