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What’s Happening to the AR Smart Glass and Contacts Industry?

For years, innovators have been pushing the boundaries of the XR landscape, looking for ways to make immersive experiences more intuitive, mainstream, and accessible. For many, smart glasses emerged as the next-generation solution for AR experiences, offering users the ability to combine the real and virtual world with a wearable device that doesn’t feel exhausting to wear.  

Numerous companies have begun introducing their own version of these smart wearables in recent years. Examples include everything from the Lenovo ThinkReality A3 system, to the Vuzix Blade, and Microsoft Hololens 2. However, there’s still a long way to go in the AR glasses space. 

We’re still waiting to see a set of MR or AR glasses released by Apple, and the company recently announced it would be pushing its development back to around 2025. Additionally, the next stage of AR innovation: smart contact lenses, seems to be little more than a distant dream.  

Let’s look at the AR smart glasses and contacts industry as it stands today. 

Smart Glasses: Interest is on the Rise 

The good news for those interested in the development of smart wearables, is smart glasses development seems to be increasing. Leading wearable company, Vuzix, announced its Vuzix glasses are now being deployed by Ox, one of the world’s largest logistics platform providers. This could mean these wearables will become more accessible in the years ahead.  

There are even companies investing in the development of smart glasses to support those with visual disabilities. For instance, Envision’s smart glasses can recognise text on any object in more than 60 languages, and read words aloud to a user via an integrated speaker. The Dubai-based startup Amal Glass has created a virtual assistant device in the form of a set of smart glasses too. These tools include GPS features to help users navigate locations, and respond to voice input.  

DigiLens has introduced a set of ARGO Holographic smart glasses to empower users in the future of work, and Iristick is working on a global distribution strategy for its wearables, intended to target people in the modern workforce. Meta even introduced a set of “Ray-Ban” Stories glasses which provide users with an AR-style experience, connected to social media.  

Elsewhere, Meta is also investing heavily in its “Project Aria” strategy, despite numerous layoffs and other financial issues in the last year. The company is planning on signing on new research participants, academic supporters, and industry partners in the years ahead. Plus, Meta has also introduced an application for Project Aria in the form of Live Maps, which helps users to access useful GPS-ready guidance when they’re on the move.  

During CES 2023, XR took centre stage, with many existing and new developers showcasing their own take on the smart glasses landscape. Vuzix won the Product Innovation award for its stylish set  “UltraLite” glasses, weighing only 38 grams. There were also various demonstrations from companies like Lumus, and TCL, highlighting the idea that smart glasses would soon become mainstream.  

Where Do We Stand with Smart Contact Lenses 

While the smart glasses space seems to be exploding, the smart contact lenses landscape is still in its infancy. Mojo Vision introduced the Mojo lenses in 2022 for a period of real-world testing. The Mojo contact lenses included a 14,000 pixel-per-inch LED display – the smallest in the world, as well as an ARM processor and ultra-low latency radio for AR content. These lenses connect to an external controller, which powers the internal computing requirements of the system.  

The lenses appeared to be extremely promising, but the hopes of consumers were shattered in January 2023, when Mojo Vision announced it was cancelling its AR contact lens completely. The firm started working on the technology way back in 2015, and raised a great deal of capital through numerous funding rounds. However, according to CEO Drew Parkins, research and development is stopping due to the current economic climate.  

Parkins said the potential of advanced AR products has yet to be fully proven, and there simply isn’t enough funding in the current tech crisis climate to continue development. Mojo Vision is planning on moving to the display technology market instead.  

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be a huge number of companies in the AR landscape willing to step up and take over Mojo Vision’s work. It could be that we won’t see any true smart lenses entering the market until various other challenges have already been addressed, such as supply chain problems, rising inflation issues, and economic concerns.  

If we’re required to wait for the economy to balance out before investment in AR lenses can continue, then it could be years before any smart lenses appear in the market.  

What’s Next for AR Vision? 

The AR landscape is in an unusual place right now. On the one hand, demand for XR experiences is growing, particularly as businesses look for ways to enable hybrid work, accelerate production, and enhance team efficiency. Many companies have already begun to discover the benefits of AR wearables for themselves, particularly in the manufacturing and engineering spaces.  

On the other hand, the AR sector is facing the same issues preventing a number of technology companies for accelerating their path to innovation. While opportunities may be out there, and use cases are rising, supply chain issues, rising material costs, and labour shortages are difficult roadblocks to overcome.  

Based on what we’ve seen in the last year, and the beginning of 2023 so far, it seems likely that interest in AR glasses will continue at the very least. These glasses are likely to become more stylish, lightweight, and powerful in the years ahead. However, whether we’ll get a set of smart contact lenses in the next few years is difficult to determine.