Glass, what Glass? Intel snaps up Swiss eyewear startup

While Google may be backing off from the wearables market, Intel isn't feeling so shy.

Just as Google has stepped back from making networked eyewear, Intel is stepping into the gap with the purchase of Swiss startup Composyt Light Labs for an undisclosed amount.

A spinoff of the famous Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, known as the EPFL), the company creates smart glass technology that can work with any type of eyewear.

For its initial designs, the startup uses an ultra-miniature laser projector (developed by another EPFL start-up Lemoptix) built into the frame of the glasses. This projects images onto a transparent lens, which has a holographic film coating that reflects the information towards the eye.

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Most of the near-eye display technologies behind smart glasses involve some sort of trade-off. They either, like Google Glass, only show information in a small area over the eye, or are often too bulky to be practical.

Composyt's smart glasses feature a patented see-through display architecture that shows images over a field of vision of 40 degrees on normal eyewear. The startup says the fact that its product works with standard and prescription glasses, has a large image size, and very high transparency will appeal to enterprises, where practicality is more important than designer style.

The young company, whose slogan is 'bringing together the virtual and the real', expects users could have an itinerary or related emails superimposed over a real-time view - so 'viewers' can keep tabs on where they're going and what they are doing.

Medical applications are envisaged too. For those affected by age-related mascular degeneration, the main cause of bad eyesight in those over 50, a small camera in smart glasses could enlarge what they see and reflect it onto the lens.

The company is still in the early stages of its development and is working on improving the resolution and power consumption of the system, while also looking to widen the number of colours that can be displayed.

Based in Lausanne, the company was founded by David Ziegler, Eric Tremblay, Christophe Moser, and Mickael Guillaumée in 2014. It was initially backed by Venture Kick, a project which aims to double the number of startups from Swiss universities. Would-be entrepreneurs have to pitch their idea to a jury, with the winners competing through several rounds for progressively bigger funding, up to CHF 130,000 ($150,250).

The purchase of Composyt Light Labs, announced on Tuesday, was completed at the end of 2014, so Intel might have avoided the price hike caused by the sudden revaluation of the Swiss franc last week.

The Composyt Light Labs purchase also comes just days after Intel invested $24.8m in smart glass maker Vuzix.

Both investments suggest that Intel sees a strong growth market in wearable technology for enterprise applications where Google is not, as yet, ready to tread.

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