One of the companies working on smart contact lenses is calling the project off. On Friday, Mojo Vision announced that it’s going to “pivot its business and focus its resources” on the MicroLED display tech it built during its work on the Mojo Lens (via Axios). Unfortunately, part of the pivot includes laying off around 75 percent of its workers as it restructures, according to a news post from the company’s CEO, Drew Perkins. The company had around 150 employees, according to data from PitchBook and LinkedIn.
The post says the reason for the change is that Mojo hasn’t been able to keep raising money to work on its smart contact lens. “The slumping global economy, extremely tight capital markets, and the yet-to-be proven market potential for advanced AR products have all contributed to a situation where Mojo Vision has been unable to find additional private funding,” wrote Perkins.
When the company showed off the Mojo lens at CES 2020, it was clearly still far from hitting the market. The 14,000 pixel-per-inch screen in the demo unit seemed to do its job, but it had to be connected to an external battery and processor — not exactly ideal if you actually wanted to wear it on your eye. In June 2022, Mojo posted a video showing a “feature-complete prototype” being worn by Perkins, with on-board power and communications. In a March blog post, the company said the next step was “extensive user testing and analysis, software application prototyping, and overall system and product optimization,” implying that it would still be quite a while before consumers could actually buy its lenses.
Even if Mojo had been able to start selling its smart contacts, it wouldn’t have been an assured success. While being able to see informational overlays, directions, and even zoom in on objects feels like the sci-fi future, it’s unclear if the general public has come around to the idea of face-mounted computers since it largely rejected Google Glass. Even if that is something we’re okay with now, Mojo might have faced stiff competition. Meta is pouring billions of dollars into AR and acquiring companies that work in the smart glasses field. While glasses don’t necessarily feel as futuristic as smart contacts, they could theoretically provide similar functionality in a slightly different form factor.
Mojo won’t be alone in pursuing the MicroLED display market, either. Companies like LG and Samsung have already announced TVs that use the tech, though they’re currently much larger than the displays Mojo has shown. For example, at CES this year, Samsung pitched its 76-inch MicroLED CX as the “world’s smallest and most affordable MicroLED screen.” (The smallest MicroLED TV it showed off was 50 inches, but that’s still way bigger than, say, something that could fit on your eye.) It didn’t share price details, but its other MicroLED TVs have 99-inch-plus displays and cost well north of $120,000.
Mojo isn’t the first company that’s had to halt work on eye-based wearables. Verily, a subsidy of Google parent-company Alphabet, paused its research on contact lenses that can monitor a wearer’s glucose levels in 2018.