This AR contact lens startup is gaining steam despite Magic Leap's struggles

Mojo Vision, which is building an augmented reality contact lens, said it's raised an additional $51 million.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read
MOJO AR contact lens

Augmented reality tech hasn't taken off like some thought, but Mojo Vision shows some investors still believe in it. 

James Martin/CNET

There's little debate that, as tech pushes further into our lives, we'll soon be using augmented reality glasses that overlay computer images on the real world. While we still don't know when that'll happen, or what companies we'll be buying them from, investors are making their bets -- including a $159 million bet with a small contact lens startup called Mojo Vision.

The most high profile AR companies so far are  Microsoft and Florida-based startup Magic Leap, which are both betting we'll be wearing some form of the headsets they've released in the past couple years. Microsoft's already signed companies like oil producer Chevron, as well as various manufacturers and the military, to use its HoloLens headset, which starts at $3,500. Magic Leap, meanwhile, has signed partnerships with companies including Star Wars maker Lucasfilm, but so far appears to be struggling to actually sell its Magic Leap One, which starts at $2,295. 

They're far from alone. Facebook has said it's working on smart-glasses in addition to its Oculus virtual reality headsets that put a screen so close to your eyes that it tricks your brain into believing you're in a computer-generated world. Apple , meanwhile, is said to be working on a headset as well, which a source told CNET will incorporate aspects of VR and AR technology.

Watch this: First look at a tiny display made to sit on your eye

Mojo Vision, a startup with staff made up of veterans from the tech industry's biggest hitters, including Google, Amazon, HP and Apple, is betting we'll eventually be wearing contact lenses instead of computer-assisted glasses. And on Wednesday, the company announced it secured another $51 million in funding, bringing its total to more than $159 million. The funding was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), with participation from Gradient Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Dolby Family Ventures, Motorola Solutions Venture Capital and others. Mojo Vision declined to disclose what its valuation was but did say it rose with the new funding.

The new funding marks a vote of confidence among some investors despite Magic Leap's announcement earlier this month it was making deep cuts to its staff. There's also the global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 215,000 people around the globe and infected more than 3 million.

It's unclear when Mojo Vision's smart contacts will make their way to market, but the company has been discussing the tech more publicly in the past year. During the annual CES in Las Vegas this January, Mojo Vision showed off a prototype allowing people to see text, sports scores, weather and other information in a lens held just in front of their eye.

"They're not just meant to give everyday people James Bond powers in their eyes; they're really looking to assist people whose vision impairment could use help, like those with macular degeneration," CNET's Scott Stein wrote after seeing the technology.

"We've been hard at work creating the world's first true smart contact lens, and by true we mean it really builds in all the capabilities of a solution that you can wear all day, and project augmented reality information to the wearer whenever you need it," said Steve Sinclair, vice president of product and marketing at Mojo Vision (and a veteran of Apple and Motorola .)

For now, it seems investors are willing to keep backing the company.

Microsoft's HoloLens 2 pulls us further into an augmented reality

See all photos