This company wants to give you smart contact lenses that could tell you if you really should have that second cup of coffee

This company wants to give you smart contact lenses that could tell you if you really should have that second cup of coffee
Xpanceo smart contact lens

(Image credit: Xpanceo)

Mobile World Congress 2024 saw its share of phones, laptops, and wearables, but bio-enhancement devices were few and far between. They were not, however, absent. Xpanceo unveiled this week four different smart contact lens prototypes that may someday become real products that you put in your eyes.

Smart contact lenses may be the holy grail of wearables. I blame The Six Million Dollar Man, a 1970s-era TV show featuring a biomechanically-enhanced former astronaut who had, among other things, a bionic eye that let him zoom in on and assess targets (there was even a data readout). That, I assume, is the dream of the smart contact lens, a wearable tech category that has thus far failed to get off the ground.

Xpanceo doesn’t lack ambition. Instead of just one smart contact lens, the company announced four versions:

  • A holographic smart contact lens
  • A biosensing lens
  • A nanoparticle-infused lens for super vision
  • A transparent electronics lens

Xpanceo smart contact lens

(Image credit: Xpanceo)

All of these lenses are as thin as traditional contacts, the company claims, but each has its own set of capabilities. The holographic lens, which Xpanceo demonstrated at MWC 2024, is essentially a mixed reality (XR) lens. In the demo, no one put the lens in their eyes; instead they looked through the lens on a platform to view a “hologram” of the nanoparticles used in the “super vision” lens. Those nanoparticles might enable low-light vision and, yes, zooming capabilities (see? Steve Austin).

The biosensing lens, which might be used to measure eye pressure and alert the wearer of potential glaucoma issues might sound somewhat familiar. Almost a decade ago Google announced that it was working with healthcare company Novartis to develop lenses that could measure glucose levels through the tears in someone’s eyes.

It’s not clear what became of Google’s project, but the road to true smart contact lenses is littered with delays and failure.

After spending years trying to perfect an in-eye AR display system, Mojo Vision laid off most of its staff last year and switched to working on ultra-tiny microLED screens.

Another company, InWith has been working on embedding a mixed reality display system into Bausch & Lomb contact lenses. After Mojo Vision bowed out, InWith told TechRadar “We’re the last man standing it appears, since Mojo has bowed out … We’re still forging ahead with going into clinicals and focused on FDA regulatory stuff right now.” The company did not immediately respond to our requests for an update on either project, but InWith’s site has not been updated since 2022.

A grand vision

Xpanceo smart contact lens

(Image credit: Xpanceo)

In some ways, Xpanceo’s plans appear even more ambitious. Its four lens technologies appear to be a framework for an “all-in-one smart contact lens,” which could incorporate an ultra-tiny, 1-pixel screen for content, transparent technology for XR capabilities, and nanoparticles for super vision capabilities. The company believes it could start “final tests” as early as 2026.

I asked Xpanceo how close they are to bringing the “perfect lens” to market. They told me that development on all the basic components was largely complete but there’s work to be done on a neuro interface, some AR elements, and improving their biosensors.

One thing that may set Xpanceo’s vision apart from, say, that of Google or InWith is the use of materials. Xpanceo told me that there are fundamental limitations in traditional optoelectronic materials that make them too bulky for their designs. Xpanceo, by contrast, uses 2D materials that support “a more streamlined and advanced smart contact lens design.” Xpanceo is also using flexible and transparent electronics that are only a few nanometers thick.

Eye AI

Xpanceo smart contact lens

(Image credit: Xpanceo)

The secret sauce though might be – wait for it – AI. Xpanceo told me its scientists are using AI to “predict the properties of new materials and devise methods for creating custom materials.”

The company is even promising the integration of a neural interface, which implies using your brain to control the smart lens as opposed to gestures, winks, blinks, or even specified eye movements.

Xpanceo’s *ahem* vision for its smart contact lenses is futuristic and expansive. The company envisions its all-in-one lens tracking all sorts of health stats including glucose levels, blood pressure, cortisol, and more. Based on the reading, Xpanceo’s lens might display a message recommending you don’t have that second cup of coffee because your blood pressure is already high.

These future lenses might even be able to help with, well, vision problems such as myopia and strabismus (crossed eyes), automatically adjusting the view on the fly and delivering perfect vision to your brain.

It all sounds fantastic, and while I support the idea of a super smart contact lens that can show you a hidden world, bring the distant into sharp focus, and keep track of your health and proactively tell you how to manage it, no company has successfully delivered on a single smart contact lens promise.

As Xpanceo admitted to me no one has put any version of the company’s smart contact lenses in their eyes. “No, not yet. Our lens is a medical device, and we are currently in the process of pre-submission for FDA approval for medical testing.”

Jeremy Kaplan contributed to this report

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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC. 

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