Inner Focus

A Japanese eyewear company wants to correct more than vision.

Eyeglasses are, pretty much by definition, a tool to help us perceive the outside world. Even the much-hyped Google Glass is just a new way to look outward, with its camera and a heads-up display alerting the wearer to emails and other external information. Japanese eyewear company JINS aims to turn the traditional definition of glasses on its head with its first foray into the wearable tech market.

The MEME, set for release sometime this year, is all about peering inward, rather than out. Nearly indistinguishable from a typical fashion frame, the stealth smart glasses are packed with bio-sensors: Three electrooculography (EOG) electrodes are set in the frame above the nose and nose pads to detect blinks and track eye movement in eight directions. An accelerometer and angular velocity sensors along the earpiece monitor the body's axis and walking patterns. "The MEME really lets you see inside yourself and really understand your body," says Lilian Wouters, marketing manager at JINS. "It collects really important information about your mental state."

Wouters and others at JINS believe eyeglasses are a better way to measure biometrics than the more popular fitness-tracking wristbands dominating the market. The reason? Glasses are positioned at the center of the body, atop the spine, making for more accurate readings than those recorded from the wrist or leg, Wouters says. Plus, she adds, "87% of the information people receive through the physical world is through the eyes."

JINS expects its MEME to have a broad range of applications. By tracking patterns in eye movement and blink frequency, the MEME could help prevent automobile accidents, alerting drivers when they get sleepy. The same tech could be used to nudge a zoned-out office worker into taking a needed break. In the fitness realm, MEME is able to track calories burned, steps taken, posture and balance. JINS is exploring the potential of gaming apps that use one's eyes as the controller. Wouters says the company is open and interested in seeing what kind of apps third-party developers can create for the device. JINS is already working with doctors to explore possible diagnostic applications for cognitive and neurodegenerative diseases and has introduced an academic pack to help researchers gather "deep data," Wouters says.

JINS would not disclose the anticipated retail price of the MEME, but Wouters was quick to point out that the company has made its name with accessibly priced eyewear – ranging from $40 to $100. "I'm not saying the MEME will be in that price range, but we want to keep our business model where people are able to buy products at a reasonable price," she adds. The company plans to open its first U.S. store in San Francisco early this year. JINS also expects to unveil a U.S. e-commerce site around the same time. JINS already has more than 300 retail locations across Japan and China.

"The MEME really lets you see inside yourself and really understand your body."
Lilian Wouters, JINS

Available in both prescription and nonprescription versions, the MEME will be equipped with a 16-hour battery life, its lithium battery charged via USB cable. Data would be stored and presented through a smartphone app for iOS or Android, as the glasses have no heads-up display. Tadashi Shimizu, product manager for MEME, sees that as a plus, helping to give it an edge over the intrusive, techy look of competitor Google Glass. JINS' product looks no different than a regular pair of glasses, and without an onboard camera potentially recording interactions, the MEME has "no privacy issues at all," Shimizu adds.

Though the smart eyewear category has not yet caught fire with the average consumer, the team behind MEME is confident its product will spark interest. "We're excited to push the boundaries for eyewear beyond vision correction and help people magnify life," says Hitoshi Tanaka, CEO of parent company JIN CO.

The JINS MEME's frame was crafted by industrial designer Satoshi Wada of SWdesign. Other designs on Wada's resume include the Audi A6 and the ISSEY MIYAKE W watch.

Users would be able to track biometric data, including fatigue levels, posture and calories burned, through a synchronized smartphone app.

Representatives from JINS say the MEME is the first example of electrooculography technology being installed in a consumer device like glasses. The EOG electrodes detect blinks and eye movement in eight directions.

Theresa Hegel is a senior staff writer for Wearables. Contact her at thegel@asicentral.com and follow her on Twitter a @TheresaHegel.