The latest innovation from VSP Global’s The Shop research lab are frames enhanced with fitness tracking and a social charity component.
Most optical people who know VSP Global are aware it’s comprised of several business channels, including VSP Vision Care, VSP Optics Group, Eyefinity, Marchon and Omni-Channel Solutions. What many don’t know is that for the last two and a half years, a small team of visionaries has been working on developing tomorrow’s innovative products.
At The Shop
Jay Sales, co-founder and co-director of The Shop, described the beginning of the project: “I was advocating for a rapid innovation lab, and Leslie Muller was doing the same for design, manufacturing and materials innovations at Marchon. So Jim McGrann, VSP Global’s president and CEO, brought us together. That was the beginning of The Shop.”
The Shop has three teams; West, based in Sacramento, CA; Midwest, based in Columbus, OH; and East, based in New York City. Its mission is to evolve eyecare and eyewear design and technology toward discoveries that enhance people’s lives. The East Coast Shop, headed by Leslie Muller, tackles physical eyewear design to reinvent how it is created, utilized and worn.
Midwest, in partnership with The Ohio State University College of Optometry, focuses on doctor and customer relationships. Led by Brooke Kondash, it explores new models that could enhance those relationships.
The West Coast Shop, led by Sales, addresses hardware and software with a focus on human-centered design. “While we each have areas of focus, we strategically plan together and combine these disciplines as needed. The plan is always changing because design and methodology in the eyecare space are changing so rapidly,” Sales explained.
The Shop often works with startup companies, academics and sometimes large corporations. Its goal is to identify transformational and disruptive ideas that enhance company and member value. “We always want to be on the edge of what could be and what is,” Sales stressed.
When asked how VSP receives a return on this investment, Sales explained that it is often difficult to document ROI for an R&D lab, which takes many forms. “If we are developing solutions or answering questions that enhance relationships with our members and strengthen the member’s relationship to their doctor, then we have ROI because we’ve built an enhancement of what it is to be a member or partner with VSP,” Sales remarked.
On the Level
The hottest project on Sales’s plate right now is called “Level.” The project began with the question: Can we, and should we, enhance eyewear into a platform? “Eyewear is a 700-year-old technology. What would it look like to enhance it with today’s technology? The first generation started with an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, Bluetooth and a battery. Partnering with the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing, Level eyewear has evolved into a prototype for academic beta testing,” said Sales.
Unlike many wearable electronic devices, Level resides on the face in the center of the body, and its features enhance the data gathering of the device. Sales explained, “Eyewear is the most successful wearable technology in history…700 years of it, and it’s already solving a problem. We’re simply adding high-tech features and attractive styling to enhance its abilities.”
Features include tracking steps, calories burned, activity time and distance traveled. An accompanying smartphone app offers a “Find My Glasses” feature, using GPS to locate missing eyewear. The Level app also syncs with VSP Global’s Eyes of Hope program, which provides no-cost eyecare and eyewear services to people in need. As users reach their daily step goals, they accrue points. When a certain number of points are achieved, that triggers the donation of a comprehensive eye exam and a pair of glasses. Users can direct their donation to a select demographic, including children, seniors, the homeless or veterans.
The Shop envisions, builds, measures and learns from its projects. Level is only one of a number of innovative ideas The Shop teams have developed. Stay tuned for more from this creative crew.
Ed De Gennaro, MEd, ABOM, is director, professional content of First Vision Media Group.