Think of the special occasions in life you want to capture on video.
Like a birthday party, a trip to the beach, or a hike in the mountains.
Now think about the compromises you have to make to record those moments. Sure, the days of bulky cameras are mostly gone, and the cameras on smartphones can do an adequate job. But there’s still a compromise: for that moment you hold the camera up, you’re not participating fully in the experience. A piece of technology is separating you from the action. Your companions are no longer interacting with you, but with a camera.
That’s how Christopher Cox sees it, at least. He’s the founder and president of Pivothead, a Denver-area startup that’s trying to marry high-definition cameras, wireless technology, and mobile apps with comfortable glasses.
Cox’s point of view is simple: he thinks there’s a huge market for unobtrusive video recording devices waiting to be tapped. It could include parents who want a better way to capture special moments, companies that need to create instructional videos, and government agencies that need to record their work.
Despite potential competition from companies like Google and GoPro, Cox thinks Pivothead is the company that will capture this market. Why? Because he believes Pivothead has developed camera glasses that are easy to use, affordable, and stylish enough for the mass market, while also including enough high tech features to satisfy gadget lovers.
A Shift in Perspective
Pivothead makes glasses with tiny cameras built into the bridge above the nose. The Sony CMOS camera it uses can take 1080p high definition video as well as 8 megapixel photos, which are the same specs as the camera in the Apple iPhone 5s. The glasses also record audio.
When it comes to taking pictures or recording video, the $299 Pivotheads are like streamlined point-and-shoot cameras. Touching one button by the temple starts and stops recording, while the button next to it snaps a photo. The glasses connect to a computer via USB cable, and users can download their pictures and videos using a program similar to the PC software that comes with conventional digital cameras.
Owners can also buy an external “air sync” module that plugs into the USB port on the glasses and connects smartphone apps through Wi-Fi.
While other companies are building cameras into glasses, Cox says Pivothead is the only one making high-quality glasses with the camera placed at the center. Competitors like Google Glass place the camera above the temple.
The shift allows for direct eye contact in a way offset cameras don’t, Cox says.
“You’re looking into the person’s eyes, but they’re actually looking directly into the camera lens, so you end up with this very intimate footage,” he says.
And because wearing Pivotheads is just like wearing regular glasses, “you can catch very spontaneous things, and you can participate in the action hands-free,” Cox says. “You can be doing something, and be a participant. When you’re a cameraman, you’re a bystander.”
The latest models are comparable in size and weight to a pair of sunglasses, and they come with clear, tinted, and light-sensitive “transition” lenses. The glasses are prescription friendly, with lenses that can be removed and replaced.
From the side, Pivotheads look like they could be designer glasses. And while the camera is visible on the front, the glasses don’t look like something out of a sci-fi movie. Pivotheads are available in four models, with variations on the color of the lenses and the glasses.
Finding a Market
So who would buy Pivothead glasses? Cox says the company isn’t marketing to a specific age group, but to “people who want to share what they’re doing, either with their friends and family or to a wider public audience.”
In the consumer market, that could mean parents who want to record a video or create a digital photo album. It also could include teenagers who could use the Wi-Fi connectivity to upload photos and video to social media through Pivothead’s apps for Android and iOS.
Ultimately anyone who uses a point-and-shoot camera or a smartphone camera could be a Pivothead user, and for that market PivotHead has created a product that’s “simple and intuitive right out of the box,” Cox says.
Cox thinks Pivothead also has the potential to make a mark in several industries that rely on videos for training and to monitor performance. Police could use them while on their beats or making drug raids, surgeons could use them during procedures, and media outlets could use them to create content.
Cox thinks this commercial market could be huge, and Pivothead already is making contacts. Navy fighter pilots, sushi chefs, and race car drivers have given the product a whirl and made demonstration videos.
But Pivothead faces some well-established competitors. One is GoPro. For a few years now, daredevils and action sports enthusiasts have been strapping the California startup’s rugged little cameras to their gear to document their exploits.
While Pivothead’s promotional videos feature plenty of outdoor and sports action, Cox says that’s not the company’s focus. “There’s certainly overlap, and there are certainly athletes that are using our product, but we’re trying to bring point-of-view video to everyday life,” he says. “GoPro has done a beast of a job building the POV market for action sports, but we know that the functionality for this type of POV video is far bigger than just action sports.”
Google Glass is another potential rival, but Cox considers the product to be an indirect competitor.
With its heads-up display, data link, and ability to respond to a user’s voice, Google Glass is designed for early-adopting gadget lovers, in Cox’s view. The emphasis isn’t on the image quality and shooting video of everyday life; the camera in Glass takes 5 megapixel photos and 720p video. Rather, it’s on “bringing you into their ecosystem,” Cox says.
Pivothead’s aim is narrower.
“We think we’re going to have the best value by far, in terms of our capability and our price point, and basically dominate in video and image quality. Those are the two things where we’re really going to hang our hat,” Cox said.
Cox says Pivothead is about the take a big step forward with an upcoming product, which it calls Pivothead SMART, short for Simple Modular Application-Ready Technology.
The new product line, which will likely debut in July, is Pivothead’s attempt to add greater connectivity to its product.
The new glasses boast the standard 8 MP, 1080p HD camera, but have added ports for “SMART modules” that can be attached to the camera. The modules snap on to the rear of the ear pieces and include a “fuel mod” that triples the battery life of the glasses and a “live mod” with WiFi that enables live video streaming to smartphones, mobile devices, and computers.
Pivothead also is releasing what it calls an “air mod” that works with a software development kit for Android programmers.
Pivothead would be happy if developers took to the SDK and developed apps for consumers, but Cox says he doesn’t expect an app ecosystem will develop for Pivothead the way it has for Google Glass. Instead, the idea is to give developers for enterprise customers the chance to add features and integrate Pivothead’s glasses with their own devices and platforms.
The Pivothead SMART product line will still lack a heads-up display, which cuts down on the price. Pivothead has yet to finalize the price, but Cox expects the new glasses without the modules to cost about $299, the same as the current model, when they hit the market. The module for streaming video will be about $99, and the module for developers will be $179. Both will come with the fuel mod.
Pivotheads currently are available online and in a small number of retailers, but that is likely to change. Cox says the company recently signed a deal with a leading consumer electronics distributor that could soon lead to Pivotheads being sold in big box retailers and camera stores.
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