Pushing smart eyewear forwards
Luxexcel is extending its portfolio from providing 3D printing solutions for lens production, into the smart glasses market. OT finds out more from Guido Groet, Luxexcel chief strategy officer
What makes Luxexcel’s work unique?When we started, nobody thought it was possible to 3D print lenses. We began talking to the companies who had been making lenses for a couple of hundred years and they told us it was an exciting idea but would never work. We did it anyway.
If you look at the big companies that have been doing this work for years, they are of course extremely knowledgeable, but they have learnt that certain things work, and certain things don’t. It is perfectly true within their world, but if you try doing something different, you take a different approach and though you have limitations, they are different.
What led Luxexcel to enter the smart glasses market?
To get to prescription smart eyewear, we first needed to learn to make ophthalmic and prescription lenses, to consider what works in the industry and why. Because we learned this first, we can apply all of this knowledge to smart technology.
Every big technology company wants to make smart glasses. But because they all come from the smartphone business, the one thing that these companies forget is that smart glasses are first and foremost, glasses.
It is like if Steve Jobs had shown the world his smartphone as an amazing device that could host music, photos and email, but could not take calls. It is the same with smart glasses. They are first glasses, and then a smart technology. The area of prescription lenses is one we understand and can work in to help the tech companies to solve some of the problems they have identified.
What are the main issues facing smart glasses developers that Luxexcel is aiming to address through its 3D printing technology?
There is a reason that nobody is making smart glasses today. The primary issue they have is that there are products out there, but they are monstrously big things that nobody wants to wear in everyday life. The devices are heavy and bulky, and the only places you can wear them is a professional environment, or training.
The main problem then is that the tech companies need to figure out how to make smart glasses look more like glasses. Until they figure this out, it will always stay a niche enterprise product.
This is one solution we can provide. A key reason that current smart eyewear devices are so large is that they do not address prescription, with the device fitting over the wearer’s glasses. What we can do is integrate the prescription with the smart technologies and make sure that it is light, thin and fits into a normal-looking frame, so it is manageable and fashionable. It needs to be fashionable, usable, thin, and address prescription and this is exactly what we can help them with.
Could you tell us about the recent partnership with WaveOptics?WaveOptics has developed a way of bringing an image from the electronics to the eye. The technology projects the image to a waveguide in the spectacle lens that transports the image across the lens and to the eye. The technology can’t exist on its own as it’s thin, fragile and doesn’t have a prescription. What we can do is take that projector, waveguide, and a prescription lens, and make it into one unit which can sit inside of a frame. We call this a module.
We work with a lot of big electronics companies, but we felt they were not using our technology to its full potential. We had a chat with WaveOptics who felt the same way about their technology. So we decided to work together to create a technology demonstrator.
We’re not looking to make smart glasses ourselves; we just want to make full use of our technologies and create the best possible product – just to show the electronic companies that this is possible. Our aim is to partner with the consumer electronics companies to provide the technology, tools, and software to make the smart glasses.
We want to enable smart eyewear going forwards and we think, with our technology, it is possible to do it
What are the company’s main ambitions for the next 12 months?In the smart eyewear world, the electronics companies don’t know how to make glasses. These companies are realising that there is a huge advantage available to them if they can be the first to market with this, and that smart glasses really are possible today, where previously they thought it would take another five years. It is possible, the technology does exist, but you need to look at it differently, and that is what we have shown them.
Our dream is that these companies will take it up, develop this frame, fix the technical issues with the smart technology and go to market. We hope that the first ones will go to market in the next year, or the year after. We want to enable smart eyewear going forwards and we think, with our technology, it is possible to do it.
How has COVID-19 impacted Luxexcel? How has the company reacted and adapted to the challenges?We have a lot of technology developers who have been able to keep going to the office throughout this period. The teams who develop the materials, tune the printers and develop hardware have been working through the pandemic, supporting our customers.
We were fortunate in a sense that, just before the pandemic hit, we had a large number of companies come to visit us so we were already in discussions that could continue over conference calls. Now though, we are reaching a point where we need to have more face-to-face meetings to show the demonstrators what we have developed. At the end of the day, everybody wants to hold it in their hands, to touch it and see that it is real.
Three facts about Luxexcel:
- Luxexcel is a small company providing a 3D printing solution to manufacture prescription lenses
- The company was originally based in Zeeland, the westernmost and least populous province of the Netherlands. The company told OT: “At some point we realised that maybe Zeeland wasn’t the centre of the tech world and so we moved the company towards Eindhoven, with operations in Turnhout in Belgium”
- In 2013, Luxexcel presented the Dutch King with a world-first pair of 3D printed spectacles, to demonstrate the capabilities of its technology.