As initially reported by the Belgian newspaper De Tijd, and subsequently picked up by the Brussels Times and various tech and 3D printing websites, Meta (yes, that Meta) has acquired the Belgian 3D printed smart lenses startup Luxexcel. According to the Brussels Times, the story was confirmed by Meta on Wednesday, December 28th, saying in a statement that “We are delighted that the Luxexcel team has joined Meta. This extends the partnership between the two companies.” Among other things, the deal officially makes Meta a stakeholder in the additive manufacturing industry.
Luxexcel specializes in 3D printed ophthalmic and smart lenses, using a unique material jetting technology. The company has been developing this technology for nearly a decade and has achieved some significant results in terms of productivity, with as many as 50,000 ophthalmic lenses 3D printed by its customers as of 2020.
In 2019, 3dpbm visited the company in Belgium to meet then-CEO Fabio Esposito (by the way the fact that he became head of Meta Reality Labs in April 2022 gave us a hint) and understand exactly which benefits additive manufacturing brings to lens manufacturing and in particular to smart lenses [you can find the full reportage here]. At the time Esposito had explained that one of the key benefits that Luxexcel technology can offer to smart lens production for Meta smart AR and VR projects is that it can integrate prescriptions into custom visors, thus making the visors smaller and more comfortable to wear.
Luxexcel and Meta are rumored to have previously collaborated on the development of specialist lenses used in Meta’s Project Aria, which seeks to create ordinary glasses with integrated AR technology. In 2020, Luxexcel said in an official statement that it was “preparing to meet the demand for prescription smart lenses for the next phase of growth in the smart glasses market.” This occurred just as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a high-profile partnership with Ray-Ban owner Luxottica on the production of smart glasses starting in 2021.
One key challenge with all smart glasses and smart eyewear, in general, is that they are bulky and uncomfortable. But, even more relevant, is the fact that almost everyone needs different prescriptions. In order for AR and VR wear to be “wearable” they need to be able to integrate prescriptions into the smart lenses. Luxexcel promises to be able to do just that. How? By leveraging 3D printing’s ability to make mass customization more cost-effective.
In an exclusive interview, Luxexcel CEO Fabio Esposito told 3dpbm that the “still-developing smart eyewear market, which has evolved (and stuttered) over the past decade, is expected to grow into a $1+ trillion opportunity—with a CAGR of 42.9% from 2020 to 2030. Luxexcel not only aims to be a part of this growing market, it plans to play an integral role in the segment’s growth thanks to its scalable solution for printing smart prescription lenses – he said.
“In our path to smart eyewear, we identified three major pillars: the ability to print commercially-viable prescription lenses, the ability to produce them at scale and, finally, the ability to embed smart devices into said lenses.”
According to the Luxexcel executive, the company has already achieved the first two pillars. Luxexcel attained quality acceptance for its printed lenses as well as general market acceptance for custom lenses. Since reaching this first goal (in the form of ISO, ANSI and FDA certifications), the company has been working with its customers as well as internally to achieve volume production. As we saw last December, the VisionPlatform’s production scale was demonstrated when Luxexcel reached production of over 50k commercial lenses.
The goal today is therefore to meet the third pillar: to seamlessly integrate smart devices into its 3D printed prescription lenses. The way Esposito sees it, the ability to offer prescription smartglasses is imperative to the technology’s success.
“It is estimated that 70% of the adult population needs vision correction to see their best and function in every work and life,” he says. “By 2030, it is estimated that 8/10 will need some kind of vision correction. In short, many of the people that want to use smartglasses will need prescription lenses. Smart and vision correction was therefore a must for Luxexcel to enable the manufacturing of smartglasses. As you can see there is a convergence of health and tech happening. At Luxexcel we are uniquely positioned to enable it. We can print custom prescription lenses while integrating smart devices.”