May 13, 2014

Westborough's Kopin ready for wearable wave

Courtesy of Business Wire
A woman wearing Kopin's smart eyewear

This is an important year for wearable technology, with tech media outlets heralding an onslaught of so-called wearables for consumers; Google Glass, the head-mounted gadget that displays information in a smartphone-like format, is, arguably, creating the most buzz.

On May 12, Washington Post blogger Haley Tsukayama reported that added a section on its website dedicated to wearable technology, which she wrote shows "the category is gaining visibility." Meanwhile, major technology companies like Microsoft and Samsung are also developing wearable technology. Samsung has already released health and fitness "smart watches," and reported in March that Microsoft paid "up to $150 million" in intellectual property owned by Osterhout Design Group, a company that develops wearable devices for military and other government organizations.

Kopin now eyeing consumer applications

Another such company is Kopin Corp., a Westborough firm that's been making wearable technology components for commercial and military clients since the mid- 1990s. With 115 employees, Kopin is adding staff as executives plan for the expected increase in demand for its technology as companies churn out new wearable devices.

Stuart Nixdorff, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Kopin, said wearable technology feeds the modern consumer's need for "quick glances of additional information all of the time." He estimated that the average person checks a smartphone about 20 times a day, up from about five times a day just a few years ago.

"What wearables allow people to do is have this information with them more easily, at a quick glance, in a way that is less distracting to them," Nixdorff said, explaining that reading text on many wearable gadgets will be akin to glancing in your rearview mirror. On that note, Google lobbyists have reportedly pushed back against proposed legislation in several states that would ban the use of Google Glass while driving.

CEO: Wearables 'ready to go mainstream'

Kopin can leave those battles to consumer-facing companies as it maximizes the opportunity to sell its core products – displays and modules – to commercial clients. Kopin CEO John Fan said in an earnings call in March that the company is seeing "significant interest" from customers interested in using their parts in wearable devices as early as this summer. Fan noted that a wearable technology event Kopin hosted at its new Silicon Valley Tech Center in February brought in 200 attendees from all sectors of the tech industry.

"It was clear that wearable technologies are a viable technology category and ready to go mainstream," Fan said.

It's good timing for Kopin, which has experienced declining revenue recently as demand from military clients has fizzled. Revenue fell from $8.6 million to $5.5 million between 2012 and 2013, according to a company filing. Revenue continued to decline in the first quarter of 2014, but Fan said Kopin expects "substantial wearable revenue growth" in 2015, with manufacturing of components for wearables to begin in the second half of 2014.


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