Back in October 2014 a video was posted on YouTube about what looked like an amazing new product – the Cicret Bracelet.
This simple wearable promised a lot of features. Chief among them was the ability to project a phone’s screen onto a person’s arm, which they could then interact with like any regular phone or tablet. The catch phrase at the end of the video even reads “Like a tablet. But on your skin”.
The video was greeted with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism at the time it was posted. The latter sentiment was recently reignited when it was brought back into the public eye, thanks to a YouTube content creator that goes by the name “Captain Disillusion“, real name Alan Melikdjanian.
Melikdjanian’s usual content revolves around disproving viral videos, which rely on special effects and CGI to create the impossible. A talented artist and editor himself, Melikdjanian can usually replicate the video, proving that the original is a fake in the process.
A few days ago he posted a video about the Cicret Bracelet, pointing out his problems with the project and his doubts on whether or not it could be genuine.
Sitting at more than 500 000 views at the time of writing, it has once again opened up debate on the product and the claims concerning its functinality.
Specifically, Melikdjanian’s claims are aimed directly at founder of the company behind the project, Guillaume Pommier, and how he can reconcile some of the Cicret’s features.
Melikdjanian’s video piqued our interest, so we contacted Pommier to hear his side of the story.
It must be noted at this point that Pommier says he’s not yet seen the video or heard any of the claims therein. His statement concerning that is “I didn’t see the video you are mentioning, because if I’m doing that I’m not working at all. You don’t want to work when you see such things… we’re working really hard on this.”
Regardless, we spoke to Pommier over Skype and asked him about our own worries as well as those mentioned in the video.
- htxt.africa: Cicret is using a laser to project images. Lasers are not meant to be fired onto skin or into people’s eyes. How is this being dealt with?
Guillaume Pommier That is absolutely a safety concern, you are absolutely right. I have to say this quickly because this may be a question you have: we made a mistake in the concept video. We showed that the laser was projecting some black colour, which is obviously not possible. But I have to say that we made this video about two and a half years ago I think, when we were in very early development of the bracelet and we were still unsure about the technology we were using, so this was a mistake.
About the lasers you are right and that’s why, today, we are negotiating a joint development agreement with a big manufacturer who produces lasers and pico modules, because they want us to use their technology. We want to ensure that the laser will not [harm] anyone when they wear the bracelet. It is something that seems [to be avoidable] but we need to make sure that the pico module [is designed correctly]. For example, in terms of software, there needs to be [safeguards] to turn off the lasers when it’s the projection is not needed and if it is pointed at anyone’s eyes.
- h: Going back to the problems with the original video, it’s confusing a lot of people as it shows off some features which are impossible, such as the projected black colour like you mentioned.
GP: Absolutely but, at the same time, the video [has] 24 million views and, to me, it’s a great video because in five seconds you understand the concept of my product, and I didn’t want to change or leave it because, to me, it’s only a technical thing. It’s only something that tech guys are asking and questioning, and we can solve it differently, so we don’t want to change the video. But it is a mistake and it’s something that I see that [is brought up a lot].
- h: Again, looking at that initial video, it shows off a prototype version of the bracelet. You’ve now put out a new prototype version and it’s bigger and less sleek than the old one. Again, this may confuse some people as to what is being shipped at the end of the year.
GP: First of all I think that everyone understands that it is a concept video, so I wouldn’t even call it a prototype – it’s more of a mock up. It’s something we designed to see if it had a good look. We put that new design on the website and it’s more realistic. It’s not what we’re going to show this month, what may be the final bracelet in terms of size.
What we are going to show this month is what we call the “POC 2” – the second Proof of Concept. Basically, it’s bigger. It’s like a box you can wear on your arm so everything is condensed inside. It’s not linked to a computer or to an external battery and it will achieve its purpose: projecting onto an arm and being able to interact with it. That is what we’re working on with out designer in Singapore.
And about the shipment at the end of the year, maybe we have not been clear, but the idea was potentially to open the preorders at the end of the year if we were on schedule. If I’m not opening the preorders today it’s because we don’t have the final product. And when I read all these people saying that we are fake or that we are just here to make money… if I really wanted to make money I [could] announce that the preorders are open. And I have, today, about 200 000 people ready to order, and I would generate so much income that, you know, [I don’t even know] what to do with all that cash. But we cannot do it because we do not have the final product so we do not open the presales. Sometimes It is a bit hard [in terms of] finance. We reached the $500 000 donation goal, which is great, but as a company we have expenses and the donations will not be enough to continue the venture.
- h: The bracelet is supposed to support screen mirroring of devices that support multitouch. The proposed technology to understand touch input for the bracelet is said to use sensors. The problem with these sensors is that they have trouble interpreting multitouch as one finger could block the sensor from detecting other inputs. How are you approaching this?
GP: I think we’re coming back to one of the main issues with the initial video which was made years ago. At this period we didn’t have any manufacturer working with us, so we put up as video with what we thought would be good options. We were initially going to do lasers but that is the worst idea ever if you want to do multitouch. But, in the initial video, we couldn’t put all our intellectual properties or secrets. But today it is not a secret any more as I said it in a conference. We are using one infrared laser and two different cameras. One camera will be on each side of the pico projector. This allows [the sensors] to see even if you are using two fingers to zoom in or out and it’s much more efficient than an infrared sensor.
- h: So the Cicret Bracelet will supoport multitouch?
Guillaume Pommier Yes.
- h: When the more recent video of the first working prortype was posted there was an issue with flickering caused by camera shutter. This instilled a lot of doubt in people who thought it would flicker in real life. It also brings up the worry that, when people have the finished device, they will film it and reproduce the problem, perpetuating the problem.
GP: It’s a good question but, to me, it’s secondary. My main goal is to make sure that it works. But of course, you are right, if you have a kid with a Cicret that is shooting it with an iPhone, he will see the flickering so people will think it’s not working. But I’m not sure we can have a long term solution for that.
- h: Concering crowdfunding, people noticed that you created several campaigns in the past that failed and then were changed after the fact. Some people think you are trying to hide this after you started accepting donations directly on your website.
GP: Sure, I can explain that. The main mistake that we made was putting the two products in the same campaign – we put the Cicret app (a secure messaging app) and the Cicret bracelet together. To me it makes a lot of sense because when we were developing Cicret we didn’t have the money for a cloud system so we thought about inventing a hard drive that would contain all your personal data that you carried around with you. We said, okay, let’s put this hard drive around your wrist as a bracelet.
This was initially the first proposal for the Cicret Bracelet – to hold all the data for the Cicret app directly on your arm. Then I thought we could put a computer on your wrist with a screen using a pico projector. It made sense [to have them in the same campaign] but we weren’t clear enough and people [didn’t understand]. So we had a lot of traffic on Indiegogo but [with flexible funding] you can collect whatever is contributed, not just the full amount. This means that you have to deliver a product even if you don’t reach the target. Basically I think we were backed by five or six people, but we couldn’t develop the product with less than $5 000. This is why I decided to stop the Indiegogo campaign.
- h: Some people thought that you were disguising the campaign because you changed it to look like something else.
GP: We did this on purpose – changing the name – because of how the Indiegogo campaign works. We changed the name so it would go to the end of the list because [at that point] it wasn’t pertinent at all.
- h: The real question is this: when the final device ships and is in the hands of customers, will they be getting all the features that have been promised? Will they be happy with what you’ve provided?
GP: I think we should go through the agenda to be clear. We had this proof of concept a year ago and, looking at [the video we put out] now, it was pretty disgusting. It was a rough cut to show the prototype but, in terms of marketing, it was a nightmare. It wasn’t sexy at all and we know that we have a tech [savvy] community but the mainstream people who don’t know much about tech represent 98% of our community. So it wasn’t sexy enough to be shown to them.
Today we are working with designers in Singapore and they will finalise the Proof of Concept (POC) 2 by the end of October if we don’t have any delays. Then we are working with manufacturers in Asia to produce the POC 2. Then POC 3 will be the same as POC 2 but miniaturised.
Today we have a partnership with one of the biggest manufacturers in the world, and all the components have already been sourced. It wasn’t the purpose to do this for POC 2, because POC 2 is going to be helpful to improve the software, but it will be helpful for POC 3. I expect POC 3 to be ready by the first or second quarter of 2017.
Then, in the meantime, we will have to work very fast on the industrialisation – the tooling, the moulding and the certification. This will take between nine and ten months. We don’t have a day to lose on this [schedule]. Top be clear we want to ship the first bracelet for Christmas of next year. We don’t know how many because today we have 200 000 people registered on the waiting list. I also have some questions for the manufacturers as the pico projection market isn’t big at the moment so they can produce around 130 000 per year at the moment, and that can go up to 250 000 but not much [more].
About the preorders: I will decide when I open them and I think it will be after POC 3 – when we have the final product and it’s certified country by country. If I open the preorders today and, let’s say, Tansania or China doesn’t allow the bracelet to be sold in the first year, it will be a great disappointment for the community.
I accept the fact that we have some delay. One of the mistakes we made was having exact dates for release. If you’re in the industry you know that you always have some delay for some crazy reasons. For example: we had some issues with the cameras. I was expecting absolutely everything [to work] but we had issues.
- h: Do you want to say anything to the people who have doubts about your products?
GP: I can understand the doubt and [the confusion with] the crowdfunding. Today we have lots and lots of interested people in terms of investors. I am very hard in negotiating and I have had to refuse some people offering cash. In fact aside from finalising a deal (and by that I mean the money lands in my account), we have no income. This is why I am pushing crowdfunding. I could stop the crowdfunding today but it would mean we have no more money and we would have to stop development. We have thousands of people who have put their money [in] to help us and if we stopped they would lose their cash.