PixelOptics Re-Emerges With Plan to Introduce Second Generation of Empower Eyewear


ROANOKE, Va.—Electronic eyewear pioneer PixelOptics is preparing to re-emerge with a redesigned version of its Empower product and a new approach to manufacturing.

The Roanoke-based company, which attracted widespread media coverage when it launched its innovative Empower electronic focusing eyewear in 2011, has kept a low profile since mid-2012, when issues with the product’s optics, electronics and design caused it to “amend the rate of the Gen.1 launch,” according to Brett Craig, PixelOptics president and CEO. Now, after selling more than 1,000 units of the first-generation product, PixelOptics has stopped distribution of it as of March 1 and is readying an improved, second-generation product for a U.S. and European launch later this year, Craig told VMail.

“PixelOptics was pleased with the initial reaction to Empower eyewear,” said Craig, a former president of Transitions Optical who became president of PixelOptics in December, 2011. “However, as with any new category introduction, the company learned early on what could be improved, in terms of refining the optics, electronics, and the design of the eyewear. With a goal toward optimizing the patient experience, we refocused our energies on all facets of the business, to ensure that we developed a more robust technology and service delivery platform for the second generation product.

“The company has been repositioned, not just the technology but the service model and partner alignment,” Craig continued. “It will be a strongly viable service and solutions model moving forward in 2013.”

Craig said PixelOptics has set up a program to service customers who purchased the first-generation Empower eyewear and will announce the details shortly.

The second-generation Empower product still features PixelOptics’ proprietary, wearer-activated invisible electronic near focus zone, which is placed within a lightweight composite lens with a thin transparent liquid crystal layer, Craig said. A microchip, accelerometer and miniature rechargeable batteries are embedded inside the temples of the eyeglass frames.

The new version of Empower features several improvements over the earlier version, according to Craig. “We’ve redesigned the electronics, optics, coatings and frames,” he explained. “We’ve enhanced the visual experience in the optics with a more fully optimized design. This is especially apparent in the electronic reading zone.”

There are still two modes of activating the glasses—a manual mode with an on-off switch, and an automatic mode with an accelerometer, which works when you tilt your head, Craig noted. “However, we have re-engineered the user interface to include an improved charging system,” he said.

PixelOptics will also debut a new look for Empower that Craig described as an “improvement both in frame design and product reliability.” He added that the company continues to partner with Aspex Eyewear, which has exclusive frame rights in North America.

Craig said all current patients wearing Empower eyewear who require servicing or have products on order will continue to be supported by medical professionals with the full support of PixelOptics. If new or replacement eyewear are needed before the new products are ready, PixelOptics will create a “patient-specific solution to make sure that the patient’s vision needs are secured,” he said.

Pixel will continue to distribute Empower through a network of independent wholesale laboratories it has established. However, PixelOptics will now surface, finish, coat and assemble the final product instead of outsourcing these processes to the laboratories, Craig said. Empower lenses will also use an improved coating system, he added.

Craig is still formulating the marketing strategy and pricing for Empower, which had previously retailed for $1,200 to $1,500. He said PixelOptics has done studies on “pricing elasticity” and has developed a revised pricing strategy.

Since taking the helm of PixelOptics, Craig has revamped its management team. However, a number of key executives remain with the company, including Bill Kokonawski, senior vice president and chief technology officer; Bill Spies, senior vice president of global energize distribution; Robert Hall, senior vice president, laboratory operations; Richard Clompus, OD, vice president of professional and trade relations. Ron Blum, OD, who founded PixelOptics and served as president during its start-up phase, serves as senior advisor.