Recon Instrument’s futuristic ‘direct to eye’ ride technology raises the wearable tech sector to new heights in the bike world. BikeBiz speaks with Recon Instruments CEO Dan Eisenhardt…
Tell us about the recon story, where did the idea come from? The future, presumably?
Dan co-founded Recon Instruments in 2008 and has been CEO since day one. Having swum competitively at an international level, both in his native Denmark and in the United States, his athletic background was a key inspiration for founding the company.
One of the big problems in swimming is that you are totally cut off from any information, save for the pace clock that you can glance at every 50 meters or so by the side of the pool. Swimmers have virtually no data with which to manage their workouts and races. Dan’s a data junky so this was a real problem for him on a very personal level and it was with this in mind that Dan first got the idea for a swim goggle Heads-up Display (HUD).
The idea was for a HUD that would provide in-activity data readouts, direct to the athlete. There were challenges associated with executing the swim goggle HUD (form factor constraints at the time, waterproofing challenges, and cost) so along with his fellow co-founders they switched their sights to the snow-sports market and built the first consumer heads-up display the world had ever seen, for skiing and snowboarding.
The “inaccessibility of information” problem is nearly as acute for skiers and snowboarders as it is for swimmers so this made perfect sense. It seems the market agrees and we’re now well north of 50,000 units shipped and have great partnerships with the likes of Oakley and Apple. But, even from day one, we’ve always had our sights set on smaller, lighter form factors that would be appropriate for a broader set of use cases, including cycling. The design archive at Recon has numerous concepts dating from 2008 and 2009, many of which bear remarkable similarity to the Jet smartglass that is in the final stages of development today (as well as even more advanced concepts we’ll be developing in the future).
So what performance data can be relayed back to the rider through the glasses?
Recon Jet is a flexible computing platform that delivers all the processing power of a modern smart-phone. It comes loaded with software customised for cyclists. The key “7 deadly metrics” Jet delivers are speed, distance, time, vertical, heart rate*, power* and cadence*.
*Generated, of course, by HR sensors, power strain gauges and cadence sensors and communicated to the smartglass via Jet’s ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart protocols.
It's not just ride data that can be relayed, mobile messages, the weather and more too?
That’s correct. Jet connects to your smartphone so you see caller ID and text messages in the display.
This is a major safety benefit; we’ve all seen riders reach for their phones in their jersey pockets to check a message or answer a call, which is super unsafe. That problem is eliminated with Jet. Jet also has a HD video camera, which is incredibly convenient for grabbing quick photos and video without the nuisance of managing another device. Weather alerts, GPS navigation and a host of other features will not be part of the initial out-of-box feature set but they are on the roadmap for inclusion via firmware updates in the future.
And it's Ant+, Bluetooth and Wifi linkable too, so compatible with most heart rate monitors around?
Definitely. Third-party sensors like power meters, heart rate monitors, and speed & cadence sensors can connect to Recon Jet via ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart (a.k.a. Bluetooth Low Energy).
Recon has already been well received in the press and now you're up for awards, is that right?
We have received some great awards and accolades since we released our first HUD solution for the 2010/11 snowsports season, including CES Best of Innovations, an Edison Award, and many others.
What good words have journalists had to say thus far about the product?
"We were blown away by how amazing this wearable tech is” – Jay Prasuhn, Lava Magazine
“Recon’s Jet HUD sports glasses are the cool jock to Google Glass’ slightly awkward (but still pretty cool) chess team president.” – Roberto Baldwin, WIRED
“Recon Jet is badass” – Pete Pachal, Mashable
What advances made it possible to get so much tech into a small enough space to make recon a possibility?
Recon has benefited most notably from the emergence and scale of mobile/smart phone technology. The entire suite of capabilities, driven by the smartphone industry, has made possible the miniaturisation of sensors, huge leaps forward in CPU processing speed, dramatic improvements in battery performance and advances in measurement accuracy of GPS, to name just a few benefits. The scale of demand for smartphones has driven tremendous innovation in all these areas with resulting improvements in performance and a reduction in costs. Much of the technology that has been developed specifically for the smartphone industry has been re-deployed by our teams in highly innovative ways.
What developments could we theoretically expect in the coming years from recon?
Miniaturisation of components, more powerful components, and enhanced battery life are all areas of focus on the hardware side. On the software side, Jet is built on an open platform with an open web API and SDK. This enables app developers to build new apps and address new use cases where hands-free, instantly accessible information would be useful. We’ll be nurturing the development of the app ecosystem as a core initiative.
Anything different about the glasses themselves? Can you customise the lenses or any other feature?
Jet’s sunglass frame and lens is on par with the best pure sunglasses on the market. The lenses are polarized and, of course, are customized to interface with the Jet display module. We’ve embedded the microfilament electrical cable into the lens itself. This connects Jet’s battery to the computing engine. The lenses themselves are entirely change-able and we’ll make four different versions available including clear, “cloudy day” yellow, smoke (the stock colour) and a mirror style “bluebird day” high light lens.
What powers the glasses? Rechargeable battery? Is there much weight to the unit considering?
The battery life is three to five hours, depending on the nature and number of connected devices and apps running on the device. Jet’s total weight including the sunglasses, is around 60 grams. The battery, computing engine and display account for slightly less than half that with perfect 50/50 weight distribution from left to right.
Do you foresee a day when the retail price could come down to make the tech more accessible to all?
Yes, for sure. As volumes rise, costs will drop. We look forward to the day when we can enter more aggressive price points but that’s off in the future. But, even today at £579.99, Jet is actually a very competitive product when you think about it. The eyewear alone is on par with $200 offerings from established brands. Combine that with a very high-end computer, sensor suite, HD camera and display and you can suddenly the price actually starts looking more than reasonable.
How and when can retailers take stock in the UK?
In the UK, we have lined up distribution with Madison. They are your best resource for information regarding ordering and timing.
Madison: 01908 326000