Samsung’s Smart Contact Lens

After watching the pop culture influence of sci-fi and secret-agent scenes all my childhood, I wondered why a smart contact lens did not exist yet. A decade ago imagining a small computer with a camera attached to your glasses allowing you to view an augmented reality was still the work of magic or, science-fiction, but not science.

It turns out Samsung may be pursuing the idea of a smart contact lens, according to a patent that recently surfaced early in the month.

Contact lenses that contain a built-in camera, sensors and a display that can project images directly into wearer’s eyes have been devised by Samsung. This could be a whole lot less dorkier than walking outside with huge, blatant smartglasses.

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A patent application for the technology made by the South Korean electronics giant—first spotted by unofficial Samsung blog Sammobile—reveals the concept was inspired by the limitations of smart glasses, like Google Glass.

Why would Samsung build smart contact lenses instead of smart glasses? According to a 29-page application, the image quality of smart glasses is limited and they do not provide a natural interface.

Samsung believes this is their leap into Augmented Reality.

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The smart contact lens can be controlled using eye movements and blinking, potentially allowing users to take photos with the miniature camera simply by winking or blinking. An antenna would then transmit the image to a companion device, such as a smartphone or tablet.

Samsung is not the first major tech firm to work on smart contact lens technology. In 2014, Google signed a deal with healthcare specialist Novartis to develop contact lenses that help monitor a wearer’s glucose levels.

Coming out of the company’s Google X division, best known for developing Google Glass smartglasses, the contact lenses used chips and sensors the size of glitter to offer an early warning to diabetes sufferers by analyzing tears.

It is not clear whether a patent has been granted or if the company is currently working on the hardware as a planned product. However, Google did move to trademark the name Gear Blink around the same time the patent was filed.

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The same year, US-based wearables startup Innovega created its own contact lenses that could be used to create AR, when paired with a pair of sleek eyeglasses.

 

According to a report by Digi-Capital, the VR/AR market is expected to garner $150 billion by 2020, with AR taking the larger slice of around $120 billion to VR’s $30 billion.

Both emerging technologies are on the verge of seeing mainstream accessibility, augmented reality and virtual reality sound similar, but propose two very different futures.

Virtual Reality – immerses the wearer in a 360-degree, 3D-environment; spatial sound and motion-tracking optional.

  • Pros : transports the wearer to another environment; low-cost mobile VR with innovative accessories.
  • Cons : simulation sickness and input; needs apps, experiences and games ready for launch.

Augmented Reality – overlays 3D graphics on to the wearer’s view of the real-world environment.

  • Pros : wearer remains engaged in the real world and keeps hands free; glasses rather than headset.
  • Small field of view, expensive hardware, fashion form factor required and needs apps/games.

The simplistic prediction : AR for business, VR for leisure.

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