(If you are not very familiar with Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) i suggestion you take a quick look at WTF is Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality / Mixed Reality? Take your time, we'll wait right here.)
For most people, exposure to the world of AR and VR will have largely come through watching sci-fi movies, trying video games on something like an Oculus Rift or a Samsung Gear headset, or perhaps even the phenomena of Pokemon GO. Some of you may have even braved being referred to as a "glasshole" by wearing Google's now defunct Google Glass product.
There are a large number of projects that show the potential of this technology, and I suggest you check out a few first.
- Google has an app that instantly translates written text in over 20 languages
- Digital cadavers: How virtual reality and augmented reality can change anatomy class
- VR technology helps paraplegics regain leg function
These experiences have a definite wow factor but then really fall off into the bucket of novelty experiences in part because they require an expensive, physical device, or if used through your phone, don't make you feel like you are immersed into something new.
The need for that external hardware could seen be behind us and instead become part of our eyes themselves. Of the many companies looking at this, Omega Ophthalmics caught my eye. Omega have developed what they hope will become an industry standard "glove" for other companies to build tools upon. The idea being that when a lens needs replacing, lets say to cure cataracts, they add the new lens and their infrastructure, making it much easier for lenses with future capabilities to be swapped in with less traumatic surgery.
To be valuable, such a glove requires others to make the hands to fit, and several projects have at least been patented, if not actually started development. Alphabet filed a patent in April 2016 (# US 2016/0113760) that would involve layering an additional lens into the lens capsule to supplement the existing biological lens, offering a type of HUD (heads up display) to your vision. These devices would require power and Alphabet sees doing this with a small antennae to pick up wireless power, but I would think a glove like this may want to provide that plumbing to provide even more value and adoption.
Alternatively, contact lenses could do the job and would be likely be easier for many consumers to swallow, but may actually be further out than replacements lenses. The main barrier is the types of material required for the lens's functionality isn't really compatible with comfortable wearing, lacking all flexibility. Then there is the pesky power question again, perhaps solvable with kinetic energy harvesting from eye movement and blinking, but by no means solved for.
Encouragingly though, Google, Samsung and Sony have all filed patents in this field, with Samsung's being approved in Korea, but annoyingly vague in detail.
What does seem clear is that within a 20 year horizon, augmented eyeballs will be feasible, and I am betting that it will be with replacement / supplemental lenses rather than with contact lenses.
We will explore the implications of such technology in "The Implications of Living in an Augmented World".