The following is a transcript of a phone interview between LAFORGE Optical's CEO Corey Mack, and LAFORGE XD's Forum Manager Joshua Quillin. This is the first in our five-part Product Development series of blog posts featuring more in-depth discussions on the Shima project. These will be released in conjunction with project updates as we move forward.
JQ: This is Josh Quillin, and I am here with LAFORGE Optical's CEO and Head of Design, Corey Mack talking about the LAFORGE Shima Lens Technology: Design and Production. How are you today, Corey?
CM: I'm doing pretty good, how are you?
JQ: I'm just fine, thanks.
So, what was your inspiration for developing Shima?
CM: The genesis of Shima actually came out of a failed college project on disaster relief smart homes. The 'issue' that I had, in a sense, was the U.S. didn't experience enough major disasters around 2010-2011 to continue the research project in that vein.
So I decided to investigate just the smart home concept and discarded the disaster relief element. From that came the concept of a disk shaped device that goes on your wall, featuring a twisting frosted glass mechanism for adjusting its settings and an app to run it with your phone. But then on day one of prototyping, Nest comes out! As Nest was a very similar device, I quit because I thought that investors would be confused.
A few months after that I was at a bar, and I realized that most people only had their smart phones on them while in a restaurant, or at a party, in the office, generally when they're in an unfamiliar place. While at home, their phones are usually not being used and are either in a bag or charging in another room.
Through this I realized, “Oh, you don’t want to interface with your phone to control your house, since you’d have to get up anyway. Let’s make it on something you can wear.”
That's when I started looking at the eyewear industry and how could I make a smart home controlled by glasses, and it became clear that the current smart glasses that are out there don't look like things that people actually want to wear.
It was basically a series of bad timing and novel observation.
JQ: Why don't you give us a breakdown of the components that Shima is comprised of?
CM: At its core, Shima is a digital eyewear. The difference between what we're doing at LAFORGE and other companies is that we are an eyewear company. We're not a software development or optics company, though we deal with both optics and software developers.
The key components are:
A prescription lens with a curved mirror inside.
A frame with cutouts to accommodate the battery and other various electronics.
Skins that cover a metal frame.
That's the core of Shima. Whereas most eyewear has maybe five major components, ours has 12 - 15 depending on the design. And then in regard to total materials, ours has about 100 different individual [unique] components where a normal pair of glasses is about... ten.
JQ: How much of the Shima hardware had to be custom designed/molded/fitted to the project as opposed to being able to fit existing technology and materials to your needs?
CM: Let's look at it this way: I'll tell you what you would normally find on a pair of prescription eyewear and what we would have in common with this.
The nose pads, nose pad arms, and hinges. That’s it. That shows you how little is off-the-shelf from the eyewear industry. In terms of normal off-the-shelf from the electronics industry, the only things are the USB-C port, the auxiliary port, and the micro display. Our battery had to be specially manufactured to size, and our circuit board is completely custom from scratch; that is, basically all the major sensors you'd have on a smart phone and enough horsepower to power them fitted onto about a 10mm x 45mm footprint, or just larger than a piece of Trident chewing gum.
JQ: What does it take to make them custom like that?
CM: On the circuit board, we contract with an off-the-grid genius; we privately joke that he’s some retired secret agent or covert ops government contractor as he’s so good it’s almost scary, but he can make extremely small BGAs and integrated circuits.
On the frame side, it's more so been me being aggressive with frame designers, or, assertive about their expectations. For example, we don’t want them to try and reinvent what glasses are, we want frames just like what people prefer today but with room made for electronic components to fit within the same footprint seamlessly. We don’t want added bulk, it must fit the existing footprint.
It also took several discussions on what can and can't work with a number of our potential and existing electronics partners. For instance Intel, who was really trying to get a particular camera in Shima. We had to keep reiterating that what they were trying to do with that camera literally would not fit. It’s just one of those things where our device already weighs this much, and everything they’d need to drive that camera would double the weight just for the one component. Their camera was also 5-8x larger in volume than one we were already planning on using for a future device,