TORONTO – Vancouver-based Recon Instruments doesn’t consider Google Glass to be a direct competitor to its high-tech eyewear, but the company doesn’t mind the comparisons.
While Recon believes it produces a very different type of computer-equipped glasses — which are targeted at sports enthusiasts rather than the mass market — it’s happy to be mentioned in the same breath as the tech giant.
And the added attention Google is bringing to the wearable technology market is a major bonus, says CEO Dan Eisenhardt.
“They’re doing us a huge favour by pushing the category and really showing people the value of heads-up information,” he says.
“Hopefully it will help also get that momentum going … and further down the road you’ll probably see more and more people feeling comfortable using it for different things in their everyday lives.”
Since 2010, the company has been releasing so-called “heads-up display” products that give skiers and snowboarders a high-tech way to fly down mountains. The latest device, the MOD Live, attaches to a pair of ski goggles and uses a small LCD screen to display information including GPS data, speed, altitude and temperature. Users can also wirelessly link the device to their smartphone to see text messages and caller ID for incoming phone calls, and play music.
“Nobody had ever seen a consumer headset like it, it was something you had just heard of in the military but to actually bring it in an affordable price point into the mass consumer space in sports was completely new,” Eisenhardt says.
Now, the company is talking up a new product called Jet, a pair of sunglasses with similar technology designed for cyclists, runners and triathletes. And the tech world is taking notice.
Last week, Intel announced it was investing $4 million in Recon to help “accelerate product development, marketing and global sales.” Recon was also promised access to “expertise in manufacturing, operations and technology.”
“We’re taking a step away from the snow business and into a completely different category in many ways. We’re (marketing) it for cycling and triathlon, of course running as well, but you could imagine all kinds of applications where you’re wearing sunglasses and you’re outdoors doing an activity and you can get data that you need for that moment in time,” says Eisenhardt, adding that golf, hunting and sailing offer opportunities for expansion.
But he’s keen to stay focused on just a few markets for now and allow the wearables trend to mature.
“It’s hard to argue against the fact that instant information is valuable, if you can bring information closer to people’s attention more conveniently … that’s a fantastic value proposition, that is worth a lot. The question is what does it take to get there,” says Eisenhardt, noting that physical design is a critically important component.
“Deep down we’re all vain, if we put something on our faces or on our bodies we want it to make us look better, not worse, so we need to solve that equation where the technology is helping you but you’re also compromising on your appearance. And you’re maybe also compromising on your social interactions.
“It has to be really small, almost like a piece of jewelry, and out of sight.”
Recon is allowing software developers to write their own third-party apps for the Jet sunglasses, which Eisenhardt hints could allow for turn-by-turn directions and social media connectivity.
Recon is targeting March 2014 to start shipping out the Jet.