Anuji Bertia Screenplay | New Delhi | Updated: July 1, 2020 15:33:50 Canadian company North is famous for its smart glasses called Focals.
North Inc is an unheard-of Canadian smart glass maker that was acquired Tuesday by Google’s parent company Alphabet. The acquisition of Waterloo, Ontario-based startup North, known for Focals smart glasses, could help Google accelerate the development of smart glasses for mainstream markets. Apple and Facebook are two other Silicon Valley heavyweights rumored to be working on augmented reality smart glasses.
The deal is valued at less than $200 million, but North’s technical expertise will help Google invest in hardware initiatives and the future of ambient computing. Google was one of the first high-tech companies to explore the smart glass space in the unlucky Google Glass, but then moved its focus to the enterprise market. The acquisition of North makes sense, as Google doesn’t currently offer anything in the area of consumer smart glasses. Here are some unknown facts about North Inc that you are unlikely to know.
#1. Formerly known as Thalmic Labs, North was founded in 2012 by Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant, a graduate of the University of Waterloo Mechatronics Engineering Program. The idea of starting Thalmic Labs arose when the trio discussed the future of human-computer interaction through drinks. Stephen Lake was CEO of North Inc until Google’s parent Alphabet acquired a startup in smart glasses technology.
#2. The North team’s first debut was the Myo, a gesture-controlled armband introduced in 2013. The Myo armband used electromyography (EMG), an advanced sensor technology commonly used in the medical space to measure and record electrical impulses emitted by muscles. Myo had early success, but the armband did not take off. The fact that the $199 device was listed as a Time Magazines top invention this year was a testimony to what the team did right. Unfortunately, the Myo was discontinued in 2018, despite being recognized as a useful device in the field of prostheses.
Stephen Lake was CEO of North Inc until Google’s parent Alphabet acquired a startup in smart glasses technology. (Image credit: Twitter / Stephen Lake)
#3. By 2016, Thalmic Labs was full of cash as startups raised $120 million in funding led by Amazon, Intel, and Fidelity Investments Canada. The investment in Amazon comes from the Alexa Fund, which secured $100 million to fund voice response technology. At the time, Thalmic Labs had more than 100 engineers and the company planned to be more aggressive in hiring both in Waterloo and the newly opened San Francisco office.
Recalling the eMate 300, Apple’s first laptop with an ARM processor and touchscreen display
#Four. Lake and his fellow co-founders dropped the Focals smart glasses news in October 2018. A $999 Focals glass can send and receive text messages, display time and weather, and order all Uber rides through Amazon’s voice-based virtual assistant Alexa. The spectacles feature a small projector embedded in the right lens and a circular holographic film. A small projector beam hits the holographic film and bounces off the retina, the retina where the image is displayed. North was the first company to try this technology out. Focals ran on company custom software built on Google’s Android operating system.
Behind the Focals was creating smart glasses that people wear every day.
#Five. Stephen Lake and his team spent four years developing the focal. In an interview with Wired in 2018, Lake told Focals about the publications he envisioned as smart glasses people would actually want to wear. He sees Focals as a preliminary pair of glasses and sees a unique approach to differentiating smart glasses from competitors rather than technology products.
#6. The launch of Focals was part of an ambitious plan to open two flagship stores in Toronto and Brooklyn, New York. The idea was to reduce channel partners for sale and focus on selling smart glasses through their own boutique store. At the two stores, we were also able to custom fit our glasses in the showrooms. In addition, North has set up a number of pop-up showroom locations throughout North America. These pop-up stores provided smart glasses try-on and try-on.
#7. With the launch of Focals, Lake and his fellow co-founders decided to rename the company to North. Interestingly, the company’s headquarters are in Waterloo, Canada, north of Silicon Valley, so the co-founder chose the name North.
Focals smart glasses were quite different than Google Glass.
#8. Stephen Lake, CEO and co-founder of North Inc, wasn’t a big fan of Google Glass. “The focal is a pair of everyday smart glasses designed from an eyewear-first perspective,” Lake told Engadget in 2018. “This is different from the previous smart glasses approach, technology on your computer and your face.”
#9. A Canadian company surprised many when it purchased Intel’s Vaunt smart glasses patents and technology in 2018. In the same year, Intel announced that it would stop developing ambitious Vaunt augmented reality glasses. Given that Intel was an investor in North, it makes sense for start-ups to get Intel a very valuable patent. The deal’s size wasn’t disclosed, but The Verge cited North CEO Stephen Lake as saying the deal includes more than 230 patents. Apparently, with the acquisition of Intel, North has more than 650 total patents.
Interesting Facts About Johnny Rouge, The Man Behind Apple’s Custom Processors The North team’s first debut product was Myo, a gesture-controlled armband introduced in 2013. (Image source: North Inc)
#Ten. The original Focals were well received by the nerd community, but North didn’t make any money from it. In fact, North has been struggling since shipping smart glasses in early 2019. The Canadian government withdrew its $18 million investment in startups after laying off 150 staff just weeks after the company began shipping Focals. By the end of 2019, North stopped selling first-generation smart glasses. The fact that North had to lower the price of Focals from $999 to $600 (with prescription) shortly after launch indicated that the company still had high expectations for the product. It wasn’t done.
#11. The card had Focals 2.0. In late 2019, North showed that Focals 2.0 will be released in 2020. However, given that Google owns North, Focals 2.0 may never be commercially released. In a blog post, Rick Osterlow, Google’s Vice President of Devices and Services, said the North team will join the startup’s Google Kitchener Waterloo team in Canada.
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