Samsung obtains new patent for wearable AR contact lenses

According to the latest announcement, South Korean tech giant Samsung has been granted a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office for a new type of Augmented Reality (AR) contact lenses.

This news signifies an exciting future for the industry, as more and more smart wearable technologies are developed, say commentators.

Some are even suggesting that the news heralds the countdown to the “end of the smartphone as we know it.” This industry is at a point where cutting-edge AR software is poised to transform people's lives, but the hardware itself is still waiting to catch up before this exciting vision can be fully realized.

For a while now, experts have heralded wearables as the technological development that is going to enable mass adoption of AR, replacing the handheld, screen-based devices that are currently so ubiquitous.

However, consumers are yet to see a viable version of these wearables come on to market. Could that all be about to change?

Samsung’s latest patent is certainly a significant milestone in bringing to life the idea of AR vision that helps users to work, navigate, shop, communicate and experience the world in a more effective and fun manner.

It would be optimistic to suggest that the technology is just around the corner. The likelihood that people will all be sporting AR contact lenses within the next 5 years is slim, but the fact the patent has been approved is the first step on a path that will lead to this field being properly explored, funded and developed.

Industry analysts have already seen Apple move one of its highest-profile software executives into a specialist “wearable AR” division. So, having a major player like Samsung also enter the space is a clear demonstration of the rosy future and potential mass adaptability of this field.

In terms of appearance, Samsung's smart contact lenses are likely to provide a similar offering to AR-based glasses. What sets them apart, however, is the unprecedented wide angle of view. This is very exciting as, unlike AR Glasses, a contact lens is able to move with the eye and ensure a user is constantly immersed, without the distraction of traditional frames around the edges.

What is also encouraging is that Samsung’s contact lenses promise to avoid the classic pitfalls of short-lived smart wearable devices like Google Glass. The biggest criticism of AR glasses focused on their failure to look aesthetically appealing or combine functionality with comfort. They also fell short of offering seamless controls.

Simply being in the form of a contact lens ensures the most minimalist of looks and comfort. Samsung’s patent also mentions a dashboard that can be accessed via an external device. For example, this could be a smart wearable – something likely to be replaced later on by in-vision controls which render in the space in front of the user.

We are still some way off being able to fit truly transformative features into a contact lens but analysts already expect the market to grow at a rate of more than 75% in the next 5 years, growing to over US$ 120 billion by 2022.

Leading-edge businesses will undoubtedly see an influx of investment in AR wearables. As such, the technological advancements required to make Samsung’s contact lenses a reality may come along more quickly than we think.

What is interesting for now is that developers are starting to see how Samsung’s own engineers see the device taking shape. Whilst we are all waiting for the hardware to catch up, news like Samsung’s patent being granted offers great promise for this nascent technology.

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