GlassUp, the Italian Answer to Google Glass

After the war on patents, the war on maps and the war on smartwatches, the hi-tech scenario is going to show the new war on hype-reality glasses

An Italian start-up from Venice has challenged Google presenting its new eyeglasses GlassUp, augmented reality glasses that display emails, text messages, directions and any other information selected by apps on the smartphone.

Francesco Giartosio, CEO and researcher, started the project two years ago: “The first project of glasses I worked on was a different one, it was about developing sunglasses that would cover the light of the sun particularly for driving at sunrise or sunset – says Mr. Giartosio – but after about a year I found someone else who had already done a good chunk of the work, so I pivoted to the current project, AR eyeglasses”.

"I became interested in this project in the summer of 2011. I started seeking possible experts and centers of excellence in internet, wrote unashamed emails to the whole world."

The beginning was not easy because he could not find technicians or investors: “I became interested in this project in the summer of 2011. I started seeking possible experts and centers of excellence in internet, wrote unashamed emails to the whole world. Many never answered, some answered that they did not have the expertise for this project, other wrote it was impossible, or it would cost a fortune, or they did not have time”.

Finally Giartosio found Gianluigi Tregnaghi, a famous expert in developing optical systems, and he joined the team. “He too thought I was nuts at the beginning, but eventually he started to believe in the project and decided to get involved. It was hard to free his time, but I knew he was the best we could find”.

They worked 10 months together without meeting each other personally until they have been both invited to a meeting in Milan with a potential investor. “We shook hands twenty minutes, - Giartosio recalls - at the meeting I had to come without my jacket: I have two cats, so that my jacket resembles a fur coat, and Gianluigi is badly allergic to cats”.

In competition

According to Giartosio, the funniest moment of the story is when the Legal Dept of Google called him on the phone and asked him to change the name, otherwise they would oppose to their trademark being registered, he was both incredulous and worried. “My younger colleagues around me were exhilarated and in the end we decided not to back up. Sure, the names Glass and GlassUp are extremely similar, but the reason is ... they are both glasses! It would be hard to call them with a different name, if we want the customers to understand what we're talking about”.

Augmented features

GlassUp connects with smartphones via Bluetooth and people will be able to interact with their device using the eyeglasses frame made with a “touch” technology. As Giartosio underlines, the project is really expensive and it required big investments: “The hardware requires more than ten times the investment of a software – he says - our investment has been very consistent, and we're just at the beginning”.

"The hardware requires more than ten times the investment of a software"

The most challenging part is the optical system. “We have spent next to two years studying the feasibility, in the blind faith that we would have found it. When after one year we still had not found a good solution, it was definitely challenging so we decided to pull ahead, and we were lucky enough to actually find a solution. This is now our strength, without a technological advantage we would have a hard life against such huge competitors”.

The product is being accomplished and according to Giartosio “the plans were to manufacture the optical system in Italy or Germany and the rest in China but much depends on the industrial partnerships that we are seeking now”. He is going to present GlassUp in January 2014.

Future and strategies

According to Giartosio, there is a long line of potential customers who have asked to distribute their product, that will be sold mostly in the USA and East Asia and in the sport sector: “The beauty of this project is that we almost don't need marketing, we just mention what we're doing and we get more interest than we can wish”.

"The beauty of this project is that we almost don't need marketing, we just mention what we're doing and we get more interest than we can wish"

Once the product will be on the market, the team is planning to make different models: “Our current prototypes are made only to show that the system can fit in a normal pair of glasses, but the design is very important. We were just looking at the technical side, but we realized that we needed a very good design. This is not our job, so we are seeking help from the Italian eyewear companies, that are the best in the world.”

Giartosio suggest every young investor to keep focusing on the simplest possible solution, “Just try to do one thing and forget everything else. Find a customer who will buy that one thing, and your life will change”.

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