Company Seeks Partnerships With Local Developer Community
By Tiffany Rider - Assistant Editor
August 27, 2013 - Traditionally known for its printer and projector technologies, Epson is reframing its image as a research and development leader starting with wearable technology.
Epson launched this effort with a pair of smart glasses. The Moverio BT-100 model is an Android-powered headset built with micro projectors that produce a high definition display. Refracted through a prism in each lens, an 80-inch display appears five meters in front of the user’s eyes while leaving unobstructed space to see what’s happening in the world around them.
Epson invited the Business Journal to a private, in-person demonstration in its Long Beach-based “War Room” to view some of the abilities of the Moverio BT-100, including 3-D augmented reality (AR). AR is a live view of a physical, real-world space modified by a computer to alter perception.
“Just imagine, at the Port of Long Beach, someone able to look at containers and actually know where it’s supposed to be, or if it contains hazardous material,” Eric Mizufuka, product manager of new markets for Epson, told the Business Journal. “Everything is labeled in front of them in their actual space. We really see the applications as endless. The real benefit of smart glasses is that it’s hands-free, so it’s always going to be out of your way.”
Epson sees opportunity in commercial logistics for the smart glasses.
“We have a long history of taking core technology and finding new applications for those core technologies,” said Anna Jen, director of strategy, research and new products for Epson. “What’s really exciting for us is getting into this whole wearable space. If you think about these glasses, this is an advance talk about the first of our wearable technology products.”
The Moverio BT-100 launched in March 2012 through consumer channels like Frys and Amazon. According to Mizufuka, the company quickly realized that the consumer market is not ready for this type of technology, especially without some type of ecosystem of applications built around it.
“We changed our game plan pretty quickly to focus on developers so we can find killer applications for this,” Mizufuka said. It took about six months to find and begin working with developers, which helped Mizufuka and others working on Moverio BT-100 to recognize that it’s going to be enterprise and businesses using smart glasses that “will blaze the trail” for this wearable technology. “We feel like, if there is an ROI [return on investment] value to it, or a safety value to it, you’ll wear the glasses despite how strange they look.”
Still early in its design, the Moverio glasses are admittedly big and bulky, Mizufuka said. They weigh approximately 220 grams (just under half a pound) and are connected to a control unit that stores all of the content. The control is designed with a touch pad with which to interact. In addition to creating an ecosystem of developers to come up with enterprise solutions for the Moverio, Mizufuka said the goal for Epson is to miniaturize this technology for a normal pair of glasses.
With the control unit, the Moverio BT-100 costs $500 on the market. Traditionally, this type of technology was only available in the military sector and cost some $30,000 to produce. The high cost was prohibitive to developers and entrepreneurs interested in building on the technology, Mizufuka said. “With Epson’s manufacturing expertise, we were able to bring the cost down and put it on an open Android operating system.”
Looking ahead, Mizufuka and Jen agree that there is opportunity for small businesses and independent developers to explore Epson’s wearable technologies as a next-generation platform.
“We realize that, historically, Epson might not have done as good of a job promoting ourselves as a technology company and encouraging technology start-ups in the local area,” Jen said. “But I think our coming smart products give us a great forum and a great hardware platform to start working with some of the local developers.”