Science & Technology

North acquired by Google

North's Focals had slightly thicker sides than these normal glasses.

Image credit: عدنان حليم and Google via Wikimedia Commons

On June 30th, Google acquired North, a Kitchener-Waterloo based company focused on human computer interfaces.

Who North Was

North was founded in 2012 as Thalmic Labs, a name that probably rings a bell with many of you. Their first major focus was the Myo smart armband, which worked as a computer input device by directly reading neuro-muscular impulses.

Their more recent product, and the thing that may have got Google’s attention, was Focals: which were smart glasses. Unlike earlier smart glasses such as the Google Glass, Focals actually looks like normal glasses. Focals lenses were also prescription compatible. Lasers would shoot from the sides of the Focals onto the lens, reflect off a holographic coating into the eye, and display information to the user. Focals were controlled with a ting joystick ring that the user slipped on their finger. There was a range of styles, sizes and colors available. Some of its features included pop-up notifications, calendar viewing, weather, navigation, Uber and voice commands using Amazon Alexa.

The Focals had a couple of inconveniences. For one thing, customers needed to show up to a store and get their head 3D scanned, so that North could make a custom headset for them. A one-size-fits-all solution wasn’t possible because the lasers needed to reflect at a very precise angle. They were costly, and had a tiny resolution.

North probably only sold a few Focals, and were running low on cash. In January 2019, they laid off 150 of their employees. In short, the company hasn’t been doing great.

Who North Will Become

Now that North has been purchased by Google, their upcoming Focals 2.0 has been cancelled. North will remain in Kitchener-Waterloo and join Google’s team here.

Exactly what North will do at Google is unclear at the moment. Clearly, it will be something hardware-related. There is some speculation that Google wants to create the Google Glass 3.0.

Google has a lot of hardware products, but has had a lot of trouble in the area. Google purchased the smart-home company Nest, only to shut down the entire “Works with Nest” ecosystem and encouraging Nest users to migrate their data to a Google account. The original Google Glass was also not particularly successful, despite it’s infamy.

It remains to be seen if Google will once again bungle their opportunity, or if North and Google will be able to make the headset of tomorrow.


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