A new name.
A new product.
New storefronts, in Toronto and New York.
And a giant, bet-the-farm, pivot.
Thalmic Labs, the Waterloo Region startup known for its Myo armband, Tuesday rebranded as North Inc., and in the process launched a wearable, customizable, product called “Focals,” described by the company “as your smartest pair of eyeglasses.”
The changes, teased for weeks, with the new product displayed on streetcars in Toronto, are a fundamental shift for the company, which quickly became one of Waterloo Region’s most important startups since its founding in 2012 by CEO Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant.
All co-founders were grads from the University of Waterloo.
“It’s certainly an exciting day for us,” said Grant, North's CTO. “The product has been in the making for almost five years now so it’s exciting to be able to tell the world what we’ve been working so hard on for the past few years.”
North Inc.’s new product is ambitious. Unlike Google’s failed wearable, Google Glass, it was designed from a fashion-first point of view, and comes loaded with capability:
It allows the user to communicate via text, gather information, see reminders, get directions, summon an Uber ride, and can additionally communicate with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant.
North CTO and co-founder Aaron Grant. (Communitech photo: Sara Jalali)
Tiny projectors, embedded in the arms of the glasses, send neon light onto holographic film embedded in the lenses. Notifications, e-mails, texts appear in front of the user an arm’s-length away.
Additional controls and capability are available through a small toggle worn as a ring on a users’ hand.
The lenses, customizable, are also compatible with popular eye prescriptions.
The product will retail for $1,299, and all the manufacturing will be done at the company’s new 60,000-square-foot facility in Waterloo.
“I think it’s far less of a gamble, and far greater chance of success, with us building it here in Kitchener-Waterloo,” said Grant.
“This is a fantastic area to build a company. We have access to amazing talent. I’d almost go so far as to say we probably couldn’t have done it anywhere else.
“This product is insanely challenging to build.”
Each order is placed online and then buyers are required to be fitted at one of North’s showrooms, the first two of which are in Toronto and Brooklyn. The Toronto and Brooklyn locations are expected to open in November, with additional stores being rolled out as demand increases.
The company, which has quickly grown to just under 500 employees, raised US$120 million in a Series B round two-plus years ago, and Lake hinted then that something new was in the works.
“Ultimately, we have an ambitious roadmap for where we want to head over the next few years, and a vision of where we think wearable technology and the company will go,” Lake told Communitech News in September of 2016.
The company’s Myo product, which generated more than $10 million in sales, will be discontinued. The Myo transmitted electrical signals from forearm muscle movements into computer commands.
North’s smart glasses include a tiny projector on the inside of the arm – notice the small white dot. (Communitech photo: Sara Jalali)