It is well known that Samsung has big plans for our variable reality future. It has already paired with Oculus to devise the Gear VR, an affordable, phone-driven version of its partner’s high-end virtual reality headset, but a patent application from the South Korean company – uncovered by SamMobile and GalaxyClub – suggests that it is working on an augmented reality system that users will wear like a contact lens.
Judging by the patent submission, Samsung is looking to overcome the adoption barriers of earlier AR devices designed for general wear, particularly the issues that members of the general public had with eyewear-based versions such as Google Glass. Instead, a screen, camera, antenna and sensors will be integrated into a lens that sits on the eye, tracking movement and blinks which it interprets as commands. The device is linked to a smartphone, which would act as the central processing hub and as a secondary user interface.
It is not known whether the patent has been approved, but the information that is publicly available raises a couple of unresolved questions. The idea of someone can walk around with an undetectable camera in their eye will likely unsettle members of the public, with the viable concern being that the ability to covertly record video and take photos would infringe individual privacy as well as guaranteeing anonymity for users.
Another potential hazard comes from the insertion of complicated technology into such a sensitive area of the human body. As any contact lens wearer will know, it is vitally important than anything placed in contact with the eyeball must be thoroughly sterilised and needs to cause the least amount of irritation possible. Removing and reinserting lenses multiple times a day is also a non-starter, so it is would not be able to be taken off at any time like a glasses-inspired equivalent.
If it goes ahead with the project, Samsung will need to demonstrate that it is as least as safe as current contact lens designs, as well as working out whether short-sighted customers will be able to use this particular products either with their existing eyewear or as a replacement.
Samsung has previously trademarked the name Gear Blink in the past, which suggests that it would look to pitch this along with the other members of its Gear product family, including its smart watch and wearable technology portfolio. Whether this will ever make it out of the research lab is up for debate but, for it to happen, Samsung will need to spend a lot of time reassuring consumers that it hasn’t just created the ultimate spying device.