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Binocular Design, Environmentally Aware Database, and Seeing Darkly

April 28, 1995

Binocular Maker Hopes Boxy Is Attractive

WHY MAKE A product look clunky? So consumers will notice it.

Arthur Becker, an entrepreneur, has redesigned the binocular. In his hands, the traditional side-by-side tubes have become a pair of L-shaped boxes that slide together for storage and then slide apart for use. Instead of a circular view, Bnox provides a square, a shape more familiar to a generation raised at the television screen, Mr. Becker says.

Bnox employs mirrors and acrylic lenses instead of prisms and glass lenses. The seven-power binocular is prefocused for easy use. With its 2-by-2-by-4-inch plastic case, Bnox weighs four ounces, lighter than other compact binoculars, and comes in five colors.

Bnox USA, New York, also has a curvy designer model. But the company ``wanted to be recognized by consumers, so we went first for the boxy design,″ Mr. Becker says.

The new instrument is inexpensive, retailing for about $20, compared with an average of more than $60 for traditional binoculars. ``Commodification″ _ mass production and low prices _ is meant to encourage impulse buying at sporting events as well as in stores.

Rivals’ reactions teeter between applause and envy. ``This will raise awareness about binoculars and help everybody in the industry,″ says George Edwards, advertising director of Tasco Sales, a Miami maker of optical instruments. ``I wish we’d come up with this idea ourselves,″ says David Dess, marketing vice president of Bausch & Lomb Sports Optics, Overland Park, Kan.

While their clarity may not compare with that of costlier models, at least one early Bnox user is enthusiastic. Frank Williams, managing director of Great White Shark, a golf-oriented company in Hobe Sound, Fla., says Bnox isn’t as clear as his German binoculars, which cost around $300. ``But the difference between my $300 and Bnox’s $18 isn’t $282,″ Mr. Williams declares.

Database Designed to Be Environmentally Aware

IN VERMONT, an environmental nonprofit hopes its new software can help bring peace between, say, loggers and owls.

Tree Talk, Burlington, has produced a database, available on CD-ROM or floppy disk, that tells wood users about the characteristics of 950 species of trees. The data are meant to acquaint architects, builders, furniture makers and researchers with lesser-known but plentiful woods that can do a job as well as endangered varieties like ebony and rosewood.

Woods of the World software shows each species’ color, grain, geographical distribution and environmental status and lists companies certified to produce wood with environmentally sound methods. ``If you need a lightweight, dark-colored wood of medium strength that is perfect for cabinet building and available from a sustainable source, we can suggest a source,″ says President Richard Miller.

Users say they find the software helpful. Richard Enlow, a building products manager with Georgia-Pacific, Atlanta, says it has speeded up his search for substitutes for ponderosa pine, a popular wood for door and window trim, whose logging is lately restricted.

Paul Murray, environmental affairs manager at Herman Miller, Zeeland, Mich., says the furniture maker has just begun using Woods of the World to make sure that its new products employ only woods from sustained-yield operations.

Glass Lets You See As Darkly as You’d Like

FLICK A SWITCH, and a room with a view becomes a room without one.

Marvin Windows & Doors, Warroad, Minn., is offering ``Switchable Privacy Glass″ that instantly goes from clear to cloudy and back. The glass includes a thin film of liquid crystals made by Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing. When electricity is sent through the film, the crystals line up and allow people to see through the window; when power is shut off, the crystals return to their random state, frosting the window. If the glass fractures, the power is interrupted.

Plain window glass lets 85 percent to 90 percent of light pass through. When clear, Marvin’s privacy glass transmits 79 percent of light; when cloudy, it passes 63 percent, the company says. 3M has licensed Marvin to provide the glass for residential use, and Viracon of Owatonna, Minn., to supply the commercial market. Both concede the product is pricey at about $90 a square foot, and hazy when viewed at an angle.

It does indeed provide privacy on demand, says Maureen Fisher of Shorewood, Minn. There are three panes of the high-tech glass in her home’s master bathroom, and she reports ``no problems″ with it.

Two other companies are chasing 3M’s liquid crystals with their own technologies. Research Frontiers is developing a window in which tiny particles are suspended in liquid or film. Unlike privacy glass, which can be only clear or cloudy, suspended-particle glass allows intermediate states of clarity between transparent and opaque, the company says. When opaque, the suspended particle glass lets in almost no light.

The Woodbury, N.Y., company also says that its product will work with heat-reflecting, low-energy glass, will cost half as much as privacy glass and won’t be hazy.

Gentex of Zeeland, Mich., hopes to transfer to window glass the technology it uses in self-dimming rearview automobile mirrors. Gentex says its glass will be used mainly in commercial buildings.

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