Samsung patents contact lenses with a camera

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Samsung patents contact lenses with a camera

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Samsung Electronics was granted a patent for contact lenses with a built-in camera for augmented reality in 2014, the state-run Korea Intellectual Property Office belatedly disclosed on its website Tuesday.

The lenses are embedded with a camera, a tiny display, an antenna and several sensors that will detect movement, the international patent document shows.

Referring to the smart lens as an "eye-mount display," the document says the display projects images onto the wearer's retina “irrespective of the focus distance." The technology could expand the viewing angle much farther than projection-type smart glasses, achieving much more effective augmented reality.

Augmented reality is the combination of virtual reality and real life. With an augmented reality device, users are able to interact with virtual content in the real world and are able to distinguish between the two.

The cutting-edge lenses could have sci-fi like uses. The wearer could search for information using the simplest form of input: blinking.
The technology is expected to be far superior to the limited image quality achieved with smart glasses already available from Google.
But a Samsung spokesman made clear in a phone call that "not all patents lead to an actual product."

Samsung's smart lens patent application was filed on Sept. 26, 2014. That's the same year that Google announced plans to develop two types of smart contact lenses in partnership with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis. Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez told a Swiss newspaper last September that the company plans the first human tests of a "smart" contact lens being developed with Google in 2016.

But Google’s smart lenses are not meant to be used to augment reality. One use is for noninvasive glucose monitoring -- via tears -- for people with diabetes. The other is for people with corrective vision needs.

News of Samsung's patent comes less than five months after the company unveiled Gear VR, a mobile virtual reality headset in collaboration with Oculus, which is owned by Facebook. When it introduced its new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones in February, the tech giant tried to whip up smartphone users' interest in virtual reality by giving away Gear headsets to people placing preorders for the phones.

J.K. Shin, president of Internet and mobile communications at Samsung Electronics, announced at a March 11 shareholders' meeting that the company would focus on virtual reality and augmented reality development capacity, calling it the company’s next-generation growth engine. With the lucrative smartphone business slowing and its market leadership challenged, Samsung has been searching for a product to take up the slack from smartphones.

The company is scheduled to come up with a roadmap related to virtual reality and augmented reality at the Samsung Developer Conference scheduled on April 27 in San Francisco.

Other companies and researchers have been looking beyond smart eye-glasses and head-mounted displays to develop more user-friendly wearable devices after Google Glass proved to be a bust. Last month Microsoft said it would begin mailing out $3,000 HoloLens headsets to software developers. The invention projects a hologram which can be manipulated through hand gestures.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]



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