Recon Instruments leverages hot technology for out-of-this-world partnerships.
It seems odd, perhaps even foolish, that a young company would open its vault of trade secrets and invite the world inside for a look. Sharing proprietary computer codes with anyone who feels they can do something useful with them is part of the “freeware” app-developer ethos, but when a company making a durable consumer good follows suit, it begs the question: Why?
“That was in the plan from the get-go,” quips Darcy Hughes, co-founder of Vancouver’s Recon Instruments Inc., the company that revolutionized ski goggles by adapting what Recon has dubbed its “Micro Optics Display” (MOD) Live systems to display real-time navigation, communication and performance information inside goggle lenses. “Years ago we said that we want this to be an open platform and to enable people to create their own world and their own experience,” Hughes says.
If the decision to launch a software development kit this May was a gamble for Recon, it’s already paying off. In January, Polar Electro Oy, the company that created wireless heart-rate monitors for athletic training, became Recon’s first strategic partner. Polar developed an application that sends an athlete’s real-time heartbeats-per-minute straight to the goggle’s display screen. More partnership offers continue to roll in; Hughes says Recon receives emails daily proposing uses from skydiving to biking.
Recon’s next partnership is with Contour Inc., a manufacturer of hands-free cameras designed for shooting extreme sports. Working with Contour, Recon has developed the ability to display what the camera “sees” on the inside of the goggle lens, allowing photographers and videographers to set up shots without taking off their gloves or goggles. It has never been done before, according to Hughes. “They already have an app in the market that turns your cell phone into a viewfinder and allows you to adjust your settings on your camera. Now we’ve extended that to in front of your eye.”
If it all sounds space age, then it should come as no surprise that NASA, yet another potential partner, field-tested Recon’s product to potentially influence the next generation of spacesuit design. “They saw value with our head-mounted display systems . . . [and] approved the technology in terms of the proof of the concept,” says Hughes, noting that the final evaluation in the form of published results is still to come.
Results of Recon’s partnerships depend on the ongoing and, hopefully, accelerated growth of the world of apps and experiences relying on Recon technology, which would, the thinking goes, move more hard units.
“Sometimes we’ll charge [partners], sometimes they’ll charge us, sometimes it’s 50/50. We’re not trying to be Apple and collect tons of revenues off these apps. It’s more about enabling people to enhance their experience with the MOD Live unit,” says Hughes. He adds that through Recon, partners often tap into new markets. “We are drumming up a lot of excitement and ‘cool factor’ that mature brands have trouble nailing.”
Growth doesn’t appear to be a problem. Though he won’t divulge names, Hughes asserts that Recon has been strategizing with big names from day one, from sports through software companies and some of the biggest online communities in the world.
“We pride ourselves on business development,” he says. “There will be some huge announcements in the coming months.”