This post was produced as part of the UW Comm Department’s undergraduate Entrepreneurial Journalism course.
By Maggie Thorpe
While being pushed into a crowded train in Japan, I remember wishing I could bring out my Canon DSLR and take a video of being squeezed between businessmen and school children. I wanted to share this experience to my family and friends so they could understand what it was like.
A California-based startup, Vergence Labs, is developing a line of computer-embedded eyeglasses called Epiphany Eyewear that will do just that.
Will their IndieGogo video convince you to invest in their startup?
According to Vergence Labs co-founders, Erick Miller and Jon Rodriquez, Epiphany Eyewear is “stylish designer sunglasses with the most sophisticated optics system. With the press of a button (as seen in the below video), the eyewear lets you easily capture video in HD with a wide angle optics system, 720p video capture, optional prescription lens inserts, and an embedded computer and storage system.”
With the ability to share videos of your P.O.V. while walking across the world’s largest street crossing in Shibuya or livestreaming your performance at a concert to friends, family, or the world, Epiphany Eyewear sounds like a product right for the booming social media age. The social media crowd certainly agrees; according to Indiegogo, Epiphany Eyewear was in the top 10 highest grossing campaigns for the crowdfunding website.
However, there are difficulties in developing this technology: the small team, the heavy workload, and other competing wearable computer projects such as Google Glass. These limitations could blur the focus of the team over time.
Vergence Labs consists of 9 team members – one of whom is UW alum, 22-year-old Peter Brook.
Peter Brook was a software engineer for Facebook for a year before he decided to leave Seattle to Los Angeles in an uncertain venture for a small entrepreneurial company. He started out by sleeping on his boss’ couch.
Brook met co-founder, Jon Rodriquez while they were both interning for Facebook.
“I remember talking with Jon about some of the precursor ideas for Vergence Labs and Epiphany Eyewear and Jon always struck me as a really passionate, radically-forward thinking guy,” says Brook. “When he quit the internship, I was impressed and thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool that he found something he is so passionate about.’”
Quitting one of the top companies in the world might be considered a “ballsy” or perhaps “stupid” idea while in the middle of a global economic recession, but developments in technology and small business seem to meld best in conditions where high risk is not necessarily the highest of concerns. Many will cite that Microsoft or Apple were both created in the middle of a recession, for example.
While Brook enjoyed his experiences at Facebook, he considered that glasses computers (and even contact lens computers) were the next logical evolution after cell phones.
“We aren’t there yet from a technology standpoint and certainly there are a lot of exciting problems still to be solved in terms of power, communications, user interface design, and a lot more but here at Vergence it really feels like each day we are getting tangibly closer to making all of that a reality,” says Brook.
Because of being a small startup, time is always in short supply for the team.
According to Brook’s friend and past Facebook colleague, Steve Rutherford, Brook does not get much sleep – sometimes staying up to 36 hours at a time in order to make the tight deadlines.
“There are so many features we want to build, we are forced to ruthlessly prioritize,” states Vergence Labs. “Erick Miller has given an internal focus right now on ‘high-impact visual results.’”
The silver lining is that because of this need for prioritization, Epiphany Eyewear may have a better focus than Google Glass.
With recent announcements from Google that Glass will most likely be released in the next year, Google is making a buzz in the wearable-computer department. Perhaps due to a larger workforce, Google X Labs might be releasing a product that will die in its hype before it’s even properly released.
Early tests and reviews of the product shows issues in the risk of eye problems due to screen positioning, the (ugly) design, the need for conversation-disrupting voice control, and the steep $1500 price tag would prevent many users from using Glass. Parodies have been happening since Google announced the still-developing technology. Wired Magazine even wrote about the cringe-factor (“inherent dorkiness) of Google Glass by calling it “this generation’s Segway.”
While Epiphany Eyewear is limited in the variety of applications, it specializes in recording and sharing P.O.V. videos. The model is certainly cheaper (at $300) and according to gizmag, doesn’t make you look like a Star Trek character.
All-in-all, Epiphany Eyewear, according to Vergence Labs, is not Google Glass and it doesn’t aim to be. Their primary goal is to create designer sunglasses that “intuitively integrate sophisticated technology such as instant transition lenses and ‘experience recording.’”
While it may seem like big companies might dominate the market, small business ventures in technology is important in adding focus and new ideas into a fast-paced and highly competitive market.