North Acquires Intel’s Vaunt Technology Portfolio
North, the company behind the smart glasses, Focals, announced yesterday it had acquired “hundreds of patents and patent applications from Intel’s Vaunt smart glasses portfolio.” Intel shut down its entire wearables group in April, including the Vaunt smart glasses. Both Vaunt and Focals use mostly the same technology: a laser is projected onto a glasses lens, creating a private screen on which only the glasses-wearer can see what is projected. Focals also have a special version of Alexa integrated into the smart glasses
Big day! We've acquired hundreds of patents and patent applications from @intel's Vaunt smart glasses portfolio. So proud to grow our business with such a great partner. Stay tuned, this is just the beginning 👓 #smartglasses https://t.co/GQjymr6Iol
— North (@focalsbynorth) December 17, 2018
Specs of Focals
In October, North launched smart glasses called Focals that feature Alexa integration. Although advertised as an ‘everyday’ pair of glasses, Focals are a serious investment. Just a single pair runs for $999. Each pair needs to be customized to fit the user, as there is a tiny projector that sits in the right arm of the frames. It projects a display onto a photopolymer material that sits on the right lens. A 15-degree viewing area is produced, which covers around 300 x 300 pixels.
The invisible photopolymer material is used to display subtle overlays like incoming text messages and turn-by-turn directions with voice and visual interaction enabled by using a special version of Alexa. However, if the fit is off even a little bit, users will not be able to see the display. Therefore, stores will create a 3D model of a user’s face in order to 3D print the glasses frames. The $999 price tag does cover the lenses, anti-glare coatings, and the fitting. Focals are available in Classic and Round styles, come in three colors and are offered for both prescription and non-prescription lenses.
Why Does North Want Vaunt’s Technology Portfolio?
Even though Intel shut down their wearables group, which included the Vaunt smart glasses, the designs and engineering were developed completely in-house. North CEO and founder Stephan Lake told The Verge that the Vaunt team had developed attractive intellectual property. In the acquisition, North gained 230 patents and applications in addition to some “technology and assets” which increases the company’s total patent portfolio to over 650. “It’s really about a defensive position,” Lake said. The patents cover “everything from new techniques, user interfaces, to ways to interact with the glasses.”
Will Impressive Technology Be Enough to Raise Consumer Interest?
Intel’s Vaunt shut down production and development specifically because of a lack of clear consumer interest. Google Glass is notorious now for its high profile launch and tepid consumer reception. That product is making something of a comeback for enterprise applications, but the closest anyone has come to cracking the consumer smart glasses market is Snap Spectacles which really aren’t very smart.
Nonetheless, several companies are hoping to be the first smart glasses success story. That may include Amazon. The Financial Times reported in 2017 that Amazon was developing smart glasses. Amazon has not confirmed the story, but the fact that they didn’t bid on the Intel patent portfolio suggests it may not be a priority. Smart glasses need a clear and compelling consumer use case to succeed. That doesn’t exist today, but North is laying the foundation for success if consumer demand materializes.