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Interview with Richard Stephens from Opto

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What is Opto made of?

Opto’s body is made from lightweight, closed cell, injection moulded cross linked foam called XL EXTRALIGHT® (http://xlextralight.com/en). The front cover and other plastic parts are made from injection moulded Copolymer Polypropylene, which is one of the toughest plastics available whilst also being widely recyclable. The lenses are made from PMMA which is lightweight, shatterproof and has excellent light conducting properties.

How much does it weigh?

We don’t have the final weight yet and will only have this in July when the first production units are made, but the total wight is estimated to be less than 300g.

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Where do you see it being popular?

1. As a consumer product: we are making high-quality VR accessible for anyone who owns a smart phone. We are targeting the casual user that wants to try VR and does’t want to invest in expensive hardware. VR content is growing and expanding beyond just games, with documentaries, music videos, Netflix, movies and more now available for VR.

2. In public spaces: museums, theme parks, schools, healthcare to mention a few. The inspiration for Opto originally came from the idea of creating a lightweight VR headset for public use.

But using VR devices for public use brings some challenges. One big issue is hygiene as most headsets use an open-cell foam for the area that makes contact with the skin, which is very hard to keep clean and can spread infection. A new VR headset, Opto, addresses this concern as it is manufactured with a non porous closed-cell foam, which ensures that the devices can be kept clean. This patented foam technology is also very light making it comfortable to wear during prolonged use.

“Hygiene and infection control are important considerations for products in public use. Opto is the only virtual reality headset I have ever seen to have addressed this in their design. Their closed cell foam means it will be very easy to clean and will help to reduce the risk of infection when sharing the headset” -Dr Keith Grimes, NHS General Practitioner

Who is in your team?

Our core team is myself and Tom Jarvis as the co-founders, we also have a couple of sub contractors helping on the engineering – we are all based in Makervsersirty; a co-working space for start-ups. We are working with Finproject in Italy to manufacture the product. They are the same factory that make Croc shoes.

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Is this a one-off project/what else is in the pipeline?

Opto is the first version of what we see as a range of B2B and B2C products. One area we want to expand into is Augmented Reality and have plans to provide add ons and accessories in the form of interchangeable front panels where the user can go beyond VR and use both Augmented and mixed-reality applications.

Any issues with the prototyping?

We actually developed our own process for the prototyping of the headset by creating a 3D printed modular mould, we then used this to cast prototype bodies in a polyurethane foam. This allowed us to test with people, then make small adjustments in the design, re-print parts of the mould and then re-cast another one and be able to test again within hours. This rapid prototyping meant we could make over 50 iterations of the body shape before finding the best design.

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How important is building a brand now, for a startup with a new product?

I think this is the most challenging aspect for us. It is certainly important but perhaps more important is to have a product that people like. It’s tough to compete with established brands like Samsung so it comes down to being able to get the product out there and let people see how good it is, that’s why Kickstarter is a great platform as it lets you validate your product in the market without having a brand.

Posted 17th May 2016
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