One of the most intriguing products on display at Interphex this year were smart glasses imbued with augmented reality capabilities, which imposes a series of computer-generated images through a lens or similar product.
An example of this wearable device is a gadget Jersey City, N.J.-based company Apprentice Field Suite made in conjunction with a variety of business partners that allowed manufacturing professionals and laboratory managers to troubleshoot problems from remote locations, quickly manage safety issues, and view important documents all in one hub.
Patrick Ho, the CEO of Rochester Optical, feels we haven’t scratched the surface yet regarding optical technology. His company specializes in making a variety of smart glasses for customers in retail, military, safety professions, and more.
He answered a few questions for R&D Magazine, discussing what he talked about at Interphex and his predictions for this promising market.
Please discuss your background. Where are you from? Where did you go to school?
I earned a Bachelor of Commerce with Honors from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada before beginning my early career as an Investment Officer. Starting off in finance helped me develop the strategic and analytical evaluation skills necessary to lead and grow my own company.
In 1986, I became CEO and President of Montreaux Eyewear, a company founded to exploit specific under-served niches in a fragmented vision care market, and acquired Rochester Optical Manufacturing Co. in 1990. I quickly began to grow and diversify the business, adding a full-service optical lab, expanding to safety and government contract manufacturing, and opening retail stores beginning in 2001.
I started investing heavily in research and development in 2008 to explore, build, and implement the latest patented and proprietary optical technologies. In 2013, we entered the world of wearable technology and launched proprietary prescription lenses, safety solutions, fashion frames, and accessories for the most advanced smart glasses on the market.
Describe in your own words what your company does. What products do you sell for which markets?
Rochester Optical is a vertically and horizontally integrated company comprised of multiple divisions including our Optical Lab and Wholesale operations, Smart Solutions, military, safety and local retail stores. We have a national footprint with our wholesale, military and VA products and services, a global impact with Smart Solutions products designed to enhance visual experience with smart glasses, and a local focus with our 3 brick and mortar locations in Rochester, N.Y.
While our customers range from eye-care professionals to global technology companies to government entities to consumers, our core focus is always optical innovation. We develop our own proprietary technologies to solve optical problems and utilize the latest equipment and manufacturing advancements to provide complete solutions.
Briefly elaborate on what your session was about at Interphex.
Our panel, Implementing AR/VR in Biopharmaceutical Development and Manufacturing, included perspectives from software developers (Apprentice FS), smart glasses hardware manufacturers (Vuzix), and optical components (myself). We discussed the benefits and challenges to implementing smart glasses in pharmaceutical and manufacturing settings and provided first hand insights about our experiences in the industry thus far.
What are your thoughts on the medical device market, specifically optical technologies? Companies like Google are reportedly developing lenses to monitor glucose levels in diabetes patients, but have we really scratched the surface on what this technology can do?
These are mere glimpses into the future of optical technology, where the possibilities for innovation and advancement are endless. We are longtime believers that eyes are windows into your health, and sight is a critical sense that technology allows us to better leverage. The smart contact lenses, smart glasses, and other sensing and imaging technologies emerging now are the result of the last 10 years of research and development, marking the tipping point of rapid evolution.
Smart glasses are particularly interesting to us. Though hands-free access to information and computing with the right software applications offers undeniable benefits to both enterprise users and consumers, smart glasses pose unique optical challenges that we strive to solve. Our Smart GOLD™ lenses are optimized for smart glasses to virtually eliminate distortion, eye fatigue and strain, and provide the clearest vision possible; and our frames and safety shield accessories are designed to enhance style, comfort and usability.
We’re dedicated to removing any optical barriers to scaling smart glasses in the workplace and to mass adoption in the consumer market. Focusing on solutions and continual advancement will continue to push smart glasses technology forward.”
Please explain your thoughts on augmented reality (AR). How will this technology impact fields like manufacturing, laboratory testing, and even military settings? Do you feel AR has a brighter future than virtual reality? If so, why or why not?
The smart glasses industry is seeing more segmentation and specialization in 2016 because the use cases and markets for different devices vary. Augmented Reality is split into devices that overlay images on top of the real world in your line of sight and others that offer more Assisted Reality with heads-up-displays located in the upper or lower corners. Virtual Reality is also split between devices designed to work with your phone and others that are standalone computer powerhouses in themselves.
The future is already bright for Augmented Reality in the enterprise sector because of the productivity, error mitigation and security benefits they offer. Hands-free remote maintenance, training, quality control, video streaming, processing, checklists, and more are already a reality when it comes to enterprise smart glasses applications – and it’s just the beginning. Second and third generation devices are already launching, more software developers are developing impactful applications, and more and more Fortune 500 companies are looking to smart glasses for continual improvement and competitive differentiation.
Virtual Reality is the breakthrough smart glasses product for the consumer market. While most AR devices have more progress to make in terms of both form factor and consumer application development to take off with consumers, VR is already soaring in the gaming and technology communities and doesn’t face the same form factor restrictions.
The future for all smart glasses is extremely bright and mass enterprise and consumer adoption is just on the horizon.
Finally, please elaborate on where you see the market for optical technologies moving towards.
Smart glasses are still glasses, so they require prescription, safety and fashion solutions. The need for optical support will grow as more and more people adopt smart glasses both in the workplace and at home. We’re designing the products people need to best utilize smart glasses and take full advantage of the benefits they have to offer.
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