September 10, 2020
An Eye to the Future
A lifelong technologist and entrepreneur, Mojo Vision’s CEO Drew Perkins wants everyone to enhance their vision with augmented reality
By Amanda S.F. Hartle
Posting pictures on social media, streaming movies and attending virtual meetings — Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Drew Perkins (E 1985) helped make them all into realities.
“I like to say that since 1984, just about every bit of data that has gone across the internet or a telecom network has gone through a protocol that I developed, a piece of hardware from a company that I started or some software I wrote, ” jokes Drew, the CEO and co-founder of augmented reality startup Mojo Vision.
The self-professed serial entrepreneur and technologist has been at the forefront of technology innovations since his undergraduate days in the College of Engineering more than three decades ago.
Within 15 minutes of arriving on CMU’s campus for his first year, Drew acquired a work study job. The Computer Center located on the third floor of Wean Hall ran computing and networking for the whole university, and soon, he was making cables to connect computers and terminals throughout campus.
“Basically, I became a leader in state-of-the-art computer networking and communications, while I was still a (first-year) student in college,” Drew says. “It’s just been one step after another since then.”
In the following years, he was integral in building one of the first enterprise local area networks on CMU’s campus, powering FTP software for transferring large file sizes and inventing Point-to-Point Protocol that directly connects computers, switches and routers and allows for authentication, encryption and compression of data.
Drew started founding and leading companies in 1987, and he hasn’t stopped since. Through Lightera Networks, OnFiber Communications, Infinera and Gainspeed, he brought affordable fiber-based Internet service to 18 metro areas, developed the world’s first large-scale photonic integrated circuits that drastically reduced the cost of fiber-optic transmission networks and enabled cable operators to up their performance to meet high-speed streaming demands.
“I like the problem-solving experience and challenge, and I particularly like solving very big problems, the world's biggest problems,” Drew says. “The bigger the problem, the more challenging it is and the more fun it is for me to solve it.”
Now, his current project has its eyes trained on a problem that affects millions each year.
"I like the problem-solving experience and challenge, and I particularly like solving very big problems, the world's biggest problems. The bigger the problem, the more challenging it is and the more fun it is for me to solve it."
After developing cataracts, Drew underwent surgery to implant intraocular lenses. The small, plastic lens alleviates the cloudiness from cataracts and corrects vision deficiencies.
“I woke up from the operation, and I could immediately see, but I also started to discover some deficits in my vision, even with my ‘bionic’ eyes,” Drew says. “I thought, ‘It’s 2012, why don’t I have Steve Austin’s bionic vision like in the 1970s TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man?’ ”
And the idea for Mojo Vision was born.
For the past five years, the company has worked to deliver what they call Invisible Computing by developing the first true smart contact lens, Mojo Lens. Not only will Mojo Lens help those with vision impairment, but it is designed to provide a hands-free augmented reality experience for everyone else, too.
As the next generation of wearable tech, the lens’ built-in displays will supply wearers with valuable and timely information seamlessly and directly in their vision path without the need or distraction of a watch, phone or other device. Though a final product is still several years away from consumers’ hands, Mojo Vision’s technology is hoping to be the first to reinvent humanity’s relationship with computers.
“You’ll see the world through a whole new set of eyes with more detail, more data and access to all the information you want at the moment you want it, but have it disappear when you don’t want it,” Drew says.
“You’ll see a message from your mother, you’ll see your biometrics on a morning jog, you’ll remember the name of the person just you ran into from yesterday’s networking event, you’ll look at your breakfast and know how many calories it is, you’ll be able to identify the type of tree you’re seeing — You’ll have access to the information you want and need without burying your face in the screens that pull us from the world around us.”
"I love the institution and the people at CMU. It was my home for almost 10 years. It’s important to me to give back and help future generations get to CMU, get through CMU and launch their careers."
A Clear Vision
Mojo Vision wants everyone to be able be their best self, and for Drew, his big picture became clear because of CMU.
“CMU gave me the foundation I needed to understand and push the envelope in many areas of technology over time.”
He also found his success depends on surrounding himself with experienced and inventive people who also dream big. That’s why he’s invested in the future of Tartan innovators through a named professorship in advanced networking and communications in the College of Engineering.
“I love the institution and the people at CMU. It was my home for almost 10 years. It’s important to me to give back and help future generations get to CMU, get through CMU and launch their careers.”