Lowdown Focus Hands-on: Toronto’s Interaxon and Safilo join forces

You are about to run a marathon, head into an interview, or perform on stage and it’s time to get into the ‘zone.’ But how do you do that and when do you know that you’re there?

Meet the Smith Lowdown Focus, a pair of connected sunglasses equipped with brain-sensing technology designed to help you calm your mind and tell you when you’ve honed in your focus. I got a chance to rock these smart sunglasses at CES 2017 and walked away convinced they were one of the most exciting product announcements to come out of the show.

High-end aesthetic

The Lowdown Focus is the brain-child of Safilo, the Italian eyewear giant that produces sunglasses, sports eyewear, and helmets under its five house brands, including Smith Optics and 22 licensed brands like Dior and Fendi, as well as Toronto-based thought-controlled computing company, Interaxon, makers of the Muse headband.

The Lowdown Focus is first and foremost a pair of stylish sunglasses. The Safilo team showed me the traditional pair of Smith Lowdown sunglasses the connected pair use as a reference design, and outside of the rubber ends and nose bridge and the slightly thicker and wider arms, they look nearly identical. More importantly, when the team had the Lowdown Focus on a table with a wide variety of other Smith sunglasses, I couldn’t tell which one was the “device.” That’s because the Lowdown Focus isn’t a device, it’s a pair of sunglasses you would buy even if they weren’t connected.

Sensors galore

But of course the bonus of these specs is that they are crammed with sensors. Although the demo I experienced showed off the brain-sensing capabilities of the glasses, made possible with its EEG, EOG and EMG technology, the eyewear also features a 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyro, 3-axis magnetometer, UV sensor (UVA and UVB), temperature gauge and a pressure sensor. All of this tech is magically jammed into a sunglasses frame that looks completely ordinary.

Although not all of these sensors will be in use at launch, the fact that they are all available to be unlocked with an upgrade, or utilized by developers via an open SDK, is what gets me most excited. I can see the use of the UV sensor alone being extremely helpful in a pair of sunglasses to tell you when to get out of the sun.

“The fact that Muse is now baked into a pair of fashionable sunglasses seems full circle”

The app developed to work with the Lowdown Focus for launch will first hone in on cognitive training for athletes, leveraging the brain-sensing technology that has been used for two years in the Muse meditation headband. I got to try a demo of the early version of the app, which for now is just a skinned version of the Muse app. Interaxon confirmed that we should expect a lot more features in the app for launch that take specific advantage of some of the other sensors in the eyewear.

Honing in on mental focus

After putting on the sunglasses just like I would any other pair (no fidgeting to try to get the contact points of the EEG sensors just right), the app started with me watching a video (very similar to this one here) which was meant to “get me in the mindset of an athlete.” After the video, I was led through a two-minute breathing exercise with audio cues which told me when my mind was either active or focused.

Once the exercise timer was up, I was presented with my results in focus points, number of recoveries and the number of birds I heard (birds being deep points of focus during my exercise). My score was 177 focus points, 4 recoveries and 0 birds which isn’t my best Muse score, but I’ll take it since I did the demo during the craziness that is CES. The goal of the exercise is to get you into a focused state of mind so that you can better perform.

The fact that Muse is now baked into a pair of fashionable sunglasses seems full circle for a company whose founder, Ariel Garten, came from the fashion world and strived to make the original meditation headband as wearable as an EEG headband could possibly be.

Where many EEG headsets have tried to break into the mainstream and failed, Muse has succeeded and that has a lot to do with its friendly design. The headband saw a “record breaking year in sales” according to Interaxon CEO Derek Luke, with the device now widely available for purchase at retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon. But as accessible as the Muse headband is, it isn’t an everywhere device and this is why the Muse powered eyewear is a game changer.

Sun glasses first, tech device second

The Lowdown Focus is just the start of connected eyewear from Safilo. Through its partnership with Interaxon it has created the Safilox Brain-Sensing Eyewear Platform, which will be used to power other brands and products under Safilo’s wing. The Smith Lowdown Focus connected eyewear will be available on the Smith site at a price of around the mid-$300s -- about double the price of the original Lowdown sunglasses from Smith.The glasses will be available in both black and white frames and four different lens tint options this Summer.

"The Lowdown Focus is first and foremost a pair of stylish sunglasses"

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