I have recently returned to the states from about a week long vacation in the Caribbean (my first real break since beginning this project about 3 years ago). I hope everyone had a happy New Year and are looking forward to achieving some new goals this year. If you are in in Asia, I hope you are continuing to celebrate a fruitful Chinese New Year with your family. Now, let’s get into our first update of 2017: it's a long one.
The purpose of Alpha
We have been receiving several emails lately that make it clear that we need to fine tune the language on our website when it comes to the alpha release. Some of our pre-order customers do not understand that an alpha product is an early release product. I will go into more detail now.
We are creating a limited number of experimental versions of our product. In industry, these experimental versions are called “alphas”. They are a company’s first attempt at making a product and are often used to test assumptions in how a product will be used, product configuration, and human factors. This is also true in the case of LAFORGE Optical. The alpha release is a focus group -- we will be sending out surveys to each person who receives an alpha unit. Your feedback is crucial to the success of the shima beta release and another product we are wanting to release this year.
For those of you who remember using Google Glass, you may recall that that device was very hard to pair to smartphones, hard to use, and had a host of issues when it came to comfort and aesthetics. I do not want any of these things to be the case in our beta release later this year. Through feedback, Alpha users will be able to steer the product in a direction that is more seamless and magical (you know, something that "just works"), while being comfortable and acceptable to users when worn in public. Pre-ordering an alpha is a great way to get early access to tech with the tradeoff being that some features, initially, may be disabled or glitchy. We will, of course, fix any issues and add more features with free software updates and any major problems may require us to give you a new pair of eyewear (also for free).
I have decided to lead the update with this section because some pre-order customers wrongly assumed “alpha” was a product name and were wondering why they had not immediately received the eyewear or why they would be receiving two units.
The guts of Alpha Rev1
We will only be making about 20 to 50 of these units. They are very much hand-built, making them very expensive. Everyone receiving this version of the Alpha will also receive Alpha Rev2, for free, once it is ready. Most of the Alpha Rev1 frames will be the “Half & Half” frame style (please do not ask to have your frame selection changed, you won’t get it any sooner). These frames will consist of a Stereolithographic plastic frame front and the arms will be made of a Selective Laser Sintered metal, covered in a plastic skin. I have included some photos taken by one of our engineers in Orange County for those of you who are curious about how we put these together.
Image showing the left temple with plastic cover removed to show battery.
Image showing the end tip of left temple with plastic skin removed to show aux jack
Image showing frame front with skin removed to show power and audio cables
Image showing right temple with skin removed to circuit board and diagnostic I/O port
Image showing end tip of right temple with plastic skin removed to show USB type-C
Changes in Alpha Rev2
We will be making about a dozen changes to Alpha Rev1 to create alpha Rev2. They are detailed below:
1. Hinge assembly will be a separate part. Currently it's integrated into the temple.
2. Deep trench on frame front to accommodate cables will be removed, we are switching to a much thinner ribbon cable.
3. Deep trench on temples to accommodate cables will be removed, we are switching to a much thinner ribbon cable.
4. Flex cable rerouted to avoid kinking. This will increase product reliability.
5. Left and right temples will be mirrored. Currently they are not mirrored to make them close while taking up the least amount of space. Another solution has been found for this.
6. Internal components will be integrated better.
7. Skins will be made thinner.
8. Frame front will also be mirrored (see point 5 for reason)
9. End-piece thickness will be reduced.
10. Current nose pads will be replaced with air-filled nose pads. This is a luxury feature for increased comfort.
11. Width of frame will be increased. When we redesigned the frames to change the location of the display, we unintentionally made the frame narrower. This reduces the comfort for those with wider heads.
12. Frame architecture will be revised.
Rendering above shows stamped metal content in frame
Rendering above shows plastic and acetate "skins" over metal frame
13. Plastic skins will be switched from stereolithographic to nylon skins on temples and frame front.
Changes in Alpha Rev3
As a result of moving the display, Rev1 and Rev2 will have a tiny (2mm) protrusion on the frame front. This is the result of the backlight and bezel design from our display manufacturer. Please note that this display is what inputs the light into the lens so you can see an image floating out in front of you (a virtual image).
Image above shows existing protrusion in Rev1 & Rev2 versus Rev3
In Rev3, we will completely remove this protrusion. This change will take us a few more months as we will have to create a custom backlight for it with our partners in China. Anyone wishing to delay receiving Rev1 or Rev2 in order to get this improvement, please shoot us an email.
Frame colors and updated photos
We have not forgotten about frame colors or updated photos, they are just low on our priority. We have been making many enhancements to the eyewear and we want to make sure that whatever we show in images on our website will be accurate for several months.
Production Ramp Up
2 made in December, 0 in January, 20 in February, about 200 in March or April.
In about two weeks, I will be flying to our contract lens factory in Asia to oversee and assist them with the production process of our prescription lenses. The prescription lenses have been about 18 months in the making and represent where we have spent about of 80% the funds raised from investors.
Media/Investor Fleet is growing
The first two units we made in December have been making the rounds with select members of the press, including some at TechCrunch. During CES, this prototype and a few of our older ones also were on display at a private after-party held at the Palms Hotel after the Upload VR party. Some product planners from Epson and the HTC Vive team were there and they were blown away by what we had been working on, with everyone stating that this is the smallest and lightest AR platform they had ever seen. We will be increasing the media/investor fleet to about 10 units; currently the 2 units we made have been highly sought after (to the point where even I can’t have them when I want them). The situation is making me reconsider our media strategy for 2017.
Clarification on Alpha Rollout
In our October 2016 update, I created a graph showing production goals for the alpha release. Based on some of the emails I have been receiving over the last few weeks, it seems that I could have been a bit more specific. Near the top right corner of your invoice is a number. To get your approximate delivery period simply cross reference this number with the line graph in the October 2016 update. Additionally, we tend to be quite literal in our communications. Some people have conflated when production “starts” with when they will receive their eyewear. In the future we will work to improve our communications so that hopefully no one feels misled or gets confused.
CEO & Head of Design