Integrating digital experiences with sight is a CEO-level priority for three of the world’s biggest tech giants: Samsung, Sony, and Google. Despite Google Glass flopping, a former employee with the company tells NewtonX that they have high expectations for the next generation of simulation-based products. NewtonX gathered a panel of 9 experts who participated in Augmented Reality programs at these three tech companies, as well as other major players in the space including Magic Leap, Omega or Novartis
Google has already filed 35 patents for various types of computerized contact lenses, while Sony has filed 18, and Samsung has filed 27. The three tech giants are investing in various types of contact lenses that allow for commands through eye movements, cameras, and other data overlays on the wearer’s vision. “Consumers aren’t quite ready for it yet,” explained a former Samsung wearables employee. “But vision as an interface is already happening in other fields, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s normalized for the general population.”
From Screens, To Helmets, To Contact Lenses: Eye Implants Are Closer To Becoming a Reality Than You May Think
When commercial and military pilots go through training, one of the primary interfaces they use is the HUD (Heads-up Display). This system overlays the pilot’s line of vision with displayed data, including airspeed, altitude, horizon line, and slip/skid indicators. HUDs receive input directly from aircraft sensors and perform their own computations — they are like autonomous computers or smartphones, but with an interface overlaid on the real world instead of through a screen.
Recently, a new helmet designed for military purposes took this concept a step further, overlaying the projections on the front of the helmet, so that the pilot always has data in his field of vision. The pilot can see horizon, airspeed, weapons status, and altitude no matter where he/she looks. Feeds from cameras located on the outside of the jet also offer the pilot a 360-degree field of vision; they can even look through the bottom of the plane to see what’s below them. The helmet is also equipped with automatic night vision, and allows the pilot to issue commands with eye movements, through the helmet’s eye tracking capabilities.
This progression — from screen displays, to overlay vision displays, to 360-degree input displays, is indicative of larger trends in UX.
“The goal of UX is to make the interaction between the user and the computer as seamless as possible,” explained a former senior UX employee with Google. “That’s why we have the touch screen now instead of the keypad. This same progression applies to moving away from touch interfaces into optical interfaces.”
Can Eye Implants Enter and Augment the $30B Wearables Market?
The wearables market is currently worth over $30B — but Google, Samsung, and Sony don’t just intend to disrupt this market; they’re looking toward the over $978B laptop and personal computer market. These interfaces could easily be augmented and even replaced with eye implants.
A former Google Glass executive pointed out, for instance, that there’s no real reason we need physical buttons for keyboards — why not just have a keyboard projected onto your desk when you need it? This may sound futuristic, but in terms of consumer acceptance, it’s likely to gain traction. Computing has gotten increasingly small, both in terms of actual chip size, and in terms of consumer products. Additionally, mobility is of ever-increasing importance to consumers. In a recent consumer report conducted by NewtonX, 54% of respondents said that carrying their laptop to and from work was a major pain point in their daily lives.
Eye implants could either act like smartphones — not a replacement, but a new market — or, could disrupt existing markets and replace many of the screens we use today.
The three key areas in which eye implants will likely reach market penetration are:
1. Projected screens to replace laptops and desktops
One NewtonX expert who has worked with Samsung on wearables, posited that in the future, much of computing will not be done through screens. “Imagine instead that you have just a little block — like a blackboard, but a personal one — that you carry around. When you need a screen you just pull out this personal tablet, and your eye implants project what you want to see onto the block.” This would eliminate the cumbersome physicality of laptops and personal computers.
2. Military practice and application
The military already uses advanced VR and AR for training, as well as (as discussed above) helmets for data information and augmented night vision. Eye implants — which cannot be removed as easily as a helmet or headset, would make a combatant more nimble, and better equipped to move through space while receiving live updates.
3. New interface for data and applications visualization
Much in the same way that smartwatches didn’t exactly offer anything new, but just offered the same in a different format, eye implants could serve as a way to view your email, texts, weather alerts, and other information in a more easily accessible format than a smartphone offers.
Google, which currently is expected to command more than 37% of the US digital ad market ($40B this year), is likely to push vision-based digitization in part because if it owns the technology, it also owns the ad space and the app integrations. Considering that the tech giant grew its income by 73%, and its revenue by 26%, up to $31B this year, it’s likely that it will be able to own this emerging market. Samsung and Sony will provide competition, but ultimately will account for a smaller percentage of sales.
Eye Implants Are Your Next Screen – Prepare For The Switch
In many ways, the idea of eye implants is liberating. While it may initially appear dystopian to have a computer so integrated with the body, this approach actually frees our bodies: a keyboard could be simply a simulation overlaid on a desk; music could play through small auditory sensors. Imagine going for a run, and not having to look at your phone to see how many miles you’ve gone, not having to press a button to change the song you’re listening to, or not having to place objects in your ears to listen to music. This is the future with eye implants.