Product launch, May 13, 2014
@ Miraikan (The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Tokyo)
The release of new glasses by a eyeglass manufacturer is unlikely to cause much fanfare. But when Japanese manufacturer J!ns, recently announced an intention to enter the wearables market it sparked both interest and curiosity with a device that is both surprisingly thoughtful and remarkably sensitive. Introduced as the “World’s first eyewear that let you see yourself” the J!ns Meme promises an awareness of yourself and your surroundings unlike no other.
Wheres other manufacturers may have offered augmented experiences, this has mainly been reduced to an augmentation of what’s seen and how to best navigate the current field of hashtags, twitter comments, and plotted routes, from ‘here’ to ‘there’. Sitting behind someone proudly, if not slightly awkwardly, wearing Google Glass, the fact that its present at this launch is testimony to the nervous interest that J!ns may inspire touching upon the well established territory of others with something unique, despite the potential of being a difficult sell to the casual consumer, who view their own glasses as merely passive.
Eyewear that “lets your outer ME meet your inner ME” senses information, monitoring alertness either generally or more specifically during driving or monitoring calorie-intake and counting steps during fitness. This integration of sensing technology within the frame and function of an ordinary pair of glasses and not something added afterward point towards the devices potential beyond being an accessory.
Based on over fours years of ardent research into optics, the Meme is based on eye tracking and motion sensing technology, tapping the activity of nerves located in both the bridge of the nose and behind each ear. Pupil positions are tracked through triangulating three points with 3-point Electro Oculogy (patent-pending) a technology that depends on the activity of nerves in both places.
Developed between leading scientists from Tohoku University, Shibaura Institute of Technology, and Keio University, sensors using Electro Oculogram technology are built into the ridge base above and either side of the nose within the traditional nose pads. These detect eyeball movement and the rate at which the eyelid blinks. Additionally six- axis motion tracking sensors are embedded into the rest of the frame detecting movement, posture and balance. Combined, they attribute optical activity to alertness and energy levels, posture and the rate at which the body responds to conversation, external stimulation like driving or physical movement through exercise.
A conservative product line that includes ‘Wellington’ and ‘half-rim’ frames, along with sunglasses, the design of all have been overseen by Satoshi Wada, the Industrial designer for Audi and Issey Miyake.
The glasses work alongside a mobile app designed to relay measurements through an interface that corresponds behaviour and gesture with pictorial messaging. Accessible through any mobile device using either iOS or android operating systems, the downloaded app serves both as a notional spirit level, alert monitor and notifications device that remind and signal changes in either state or impending events like diary entries that need attention to gentle instruction with alerts like ‘Tired’ or ‘Sleepy’ suggesting you slow down or rest if driving.
With a software development kit (SDK) due to be launched alongside the app the potential for applications beyond those intended turns the potential of the Meme on its head. With further application not only hinted at but encouraged, the interface and how the distance between what it’s used with and connected to ultimately pointing towards a seamless experience.
Japanese digital creatives Rhizomatiks, a team of architects, engineers, software developers, designers and producers are based in Tokyo yet extending worldwide and are responsible for digital art direction, technical direction, web design and programming, and app coding. The team have developed a system that taps some of J!ns MEME’s strengths, pointing very keenly towards where the technology could go, if encouraged.
As far back as 1968, writer Philip K.Dick speculated an altogether improbable but not impossible situation whereby the need to rewrite someone’s mood instead of simply displaying it would be as important as drinking coffee or smoking cigarettes. His ‘Penfield Mood Organ’ allowed you to pick your mood, in the light of a very bad day minus any other suitable stimulation. Given technological advances in mapping and mining deep- data from human physiology, the chances of having glasses to augment, adapt, promote or even simplify a changing mood is not be a million miles away from what J!ns is tentatively suggesting, albeit very simply at this stage. With the app technically developed by Rhizomatiks, the chances are that J!ns MEME exceeds the original intention, and though unlikely to present the moral conundrums of the day or those Dick’s own novels predict, glasses that are more aware of your own body than you would seem inevitable.
– The fitness portion of Rhizomatiks app demoed during the press launch
A global business model?
So is this the first step towards a global business model for J!ns? Licensing technology potentially points a way towards more of an international presence for a company that has already made a move into foreign markets. In the long term, the revenue from J!ns MEME being adopted raises the question of whether as a company it is capable of mass- producing something more aesthetically satisfying than the low cost main line of glasses its famed for? Does it have the capability and know-how to integrate and mass produce? J!ns treating glassware as a fashion accessory has seen the brand grow to the extent that a move into the chinese market opened stores in Shenyang, Liaoning province with up to 100 planned over the next 4 years and an online store set to expand even further.
The brand has is well known for innovating. Founded in 1988, it has embraced ideas in the pursuit of better eyewear. For example, J!ns Moisture, launched in 2011, avoids dry eyes by providing up to 2 hours of moisture through a miniature reservoir tucked within the frame itself. While J!ns PC, from the same year, filters the blue light from computer screens to reduce fatigue.
Their distribution facility also challenges the norm. What with traditional stores operating throughout the country along with an online store, a drive through shop in Japan’s Gunma prefecture has pushed the limits of convenience, while a select number of vending machines provide with frames on average ¥3,000 / US$30 available next to the normal landscape of soft drinks dispensers and coffee machines.
With a website in both Japanese and English, and commercials featuring foreigners in the role of future consumers, the video case studies give the biggest indication yet that J!ns sees its future and that of Meme as global. For a high street brand to enter this market will certainly raise eyebrows, doing what has so far eluded companies like Apple who currently weed out the inconsistencies in their own potential wearable products.
Cheap products will not attract new customers. Lifting both the profile and price point/ margins of J!ns will signal the beginning of a strident move towards a more particular customer base where the margins are greater but the need for a more considered product is greater and fraught with more danger. They have managed to retain a level of quality and respectability with their products to date. With this ambitious step, and an industrial designer notable for working with the automotive and fashion industry they stand a very good chance of maintaining that quality throughout.
Extension or accessory?
In the idea of Meme theres a desire to think of glasses as being more than simply an accessory and more an extension. What that leads to we will have to wait and see. J!ns Meme is not officially launched until spring 2015 and initially will only be available in Japan, with a date for availability abroad to be confirmed. When it finally launches, it will be one of a fleet of products by companies all vying for ownership of the wearable market. A price point has yet to be announced but it is expected to much lower than Google Glass counterpart.
In the case of J!ns Meme, the eyeglass market will be hoping for a product thats more than a mere accessory or necessity. In years to come these glasses will be expected to do more than simply notify and alert, and have their own level of built in awareness; to be able to ask the question “how do we feel today?”