Imagine sunglasses custom-built for your face. The fit would be perfect, offering better comfort, stability, and aerodynamics than mass-produced sunglasses. And they would reduce or even eliminate sweat-driven slippage during workouts.
While there are some bespoke shades available, Cambridge startup Skelmet will be applying a 3-D twist with its Falcon 1 sport sunglasses. The two-year-old company leverages 3-D printing and scanning technology and its own design algorithm, says Rain Wang, its cofounder and co-CEO. Wang, a former high school tennis player who ran triathlons in college, says the company grew out of the co-founders’ dislike of the fit of mass-produced sports gear. Originally, the startup targeted helmets — the Skelmet name reflects the idea of a helmet that feels like part of your skeleton — but then she realized that sunglasses are a larger market and less complicated to make.
Ordering a pair of Falcon 1s will start with a 3-D scan of your face, which can be made using a portable 3-D scanner attached to a smartphone or tablet. Skelmet plans to release a 3-D scanning app later this month, and smartphones with 3-D cameras, such as the iPhone 7 Plus, are becoming more common.
If 3-D selfies seem like too much hassle, Skelmet is working with primarily sports-oriented stores that will do a free scan for customers. It hopes to announce these by early October. The actual scan, which takes about two minutes, measures forehead curvature and other cranial points such as the sellion (the point where the nasal bridge meets the forehead) and the zygion (the facial width between the ears).
The scan is fed into Skelmet’s A.I. Fit system, which takes your digitized facial and cranial features and creates a design specifically for you. The actual sunglasses are made at a 3-D printing company in New Jersey. Wang says the whole process should take about a week.
A pair of Falcon 1s weighs about 20 grams (less than an ounce), which Wang claims is about 18 percent lighter than Oakley’s lightest shades. The Falcon 1 offers two options for frame color — Magellan metallic (gray) and carbon black — and seven lens colors. Pricing ranges from $279 to $579, depending on lens options (among these are polarization, tinting, and prescriptions), a little pricier than high-end sport sunglasses from Nike and Oakley. Pre-orders on Indiegogo exceeded $43,000. The company should begin filling these orders later this month, and will end pre-order discounts October 1.
One athlete who’s eager for his pair is Quincy’s Greg Soutiea, a 33-year-old ultra-distance runner. Mass-market sunglasses either slip off his face or grip so tightly they give him a headache, so he reached out to Skelmet to offer himself as a prototype tester. He wore an early version for about an hour. “The fit was 100 percent better than any sunglasses that I have put on my face,” he says.
Such comfort is the promise of “mass custom” manufacturing. But the real test will come as they are used and abused in the course of regular training. If the Falcons aren’t durable, fit will only go so far. There’s also the challenge of accomplishing high-volume production with 3-D printing. But if Skelmet gets enough demand to have that problem, it’s a sign the future looks bright. And it already has the shades to deal with it.
Skelmet Falcon 1
Weight: 20 grams, or 0.7 ounces
Material: Nylon 12
Scan time: About 2 minutes
Colors lenses: seven options; Frames: two options