Eye on the future: Cubitts founder talks facial scanning and customisation

Spectacles retailer Cubitts has plans to launch its first mobile app by the end of May – and it is set to be an app with a difference.

The business, which was established in 2012 and now has ten stores across London, is bringing to market a head and face scanning feature that it hopes will revolutionise the way consumers are fitted for glasses.

Those using the beta version and first iteration of the iOS app will be able to scan their heads to record the position and parameters of their nose, head, face, and ears, before the best fitting options from Cubitts’ core 24 frames are presented to them. The company is currently looking for Apple iPhone X, XS or 11 users to trial the technology.

The idea is to speed up the process of matching people with the most suitable glasses, centred on securing a better fitted product. Later this year, Cubitts expects to add functionality that will enable customisation of spectacles – so if people cannot find the right glasses from the initial scan, they can order a made to measure pair via the app.

Cubitts founder, Tom Broughton, says the ultimate plan is to link up the functionality to its manufacturing sites – effectively establishing a part-3D printed glasses service – and introduce the app in its stores to help customers bypass what can be an inefficient ‘trying on’ stage. He says the move would shake up what he calls a staid process in eyewear retailing.

Talking to Essential Retail about the pipeline plans, Broughton notes: “It’ll be a good way to launch, and we’ll start developing a quantitative understanding of different face shapes.”

Reflecting on the longer term, he adds: “It means we will have democratised bespoke and made-to-measure frames, as they will be available at the same cost as the ready to wear stuff.

“The technology solves fit issues, allows choice, customisation in real time, reduces cost of production because it’s automated, and it minimises waste because every single frame is made to order.”

Cubitts is launching its facial scanning app in beta, in the coming weeks (image credit: Cubitts)
Cubitts is launching its facial scanning app in beta, in the coming weeks (image credit: Cubitts)

Eye of the storm

Like all of the retail industry, Cubitts – which is headquartered in London’s King’s Cross and has a store in the recently opened Coal Drops Yard development – has spent the last few weeks navigating the uncomfortable situation of doing business in a health crisis. That process has included furloughing staff, implementing pay cuts, and temporarily closing its stores, to help stop the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The facial scanning app has been fast tracked as a result of the current environment, with Broughton suggesting Cubitts is effectively now adopting a start-up mentality.

“We’ve almost reverted our mindset to the period before we launched in 2012,” Broughton says.

Explaining how the app has reached its current stage, he adds: “For the last three years, we’ve been trying to develop technology that can easily take a facial scan and relate it to frame.

“There have been a few breakthroughs recently because of the TrueDepth camera in the latest generations of the iPhone, which allows for pretty accurate scanning. As a result, we’ve built software that takes a scan of the face and turns it into optical measurements.”

Originally, the first version of the tech was expected to be rolled out to Cubitts’ stores, but about a month ago the decision was made to “focus on an app version and take it to the masses”.

Two in-house developers – currently operating from their homes in east London and Lille, France – are responsible for Cubitts' digital back-end and user interface work, respectively. A third-party software provider, Bellus3D, is behind the scanning functionality, and the 3D modelling is aided by a developer contact in Lithuania.

Cubitts in Caledonian Road, north London (image credit: George Baxter)
Cubitts in Caledonian Road, north London (image credit: George Baxter)

Future vision

The name, ‘Heru’, has been attached to the project, underlining Cubitts’ and Broughton’s confidence in the potential impact of the new technology. The moniker is in reference to the Ancient Egyptian god of that name, whose right eye was visualised as the face of the sun, representing quintessence.

The app’s capability is essentially solving what Broughton sees as a major optical retailer blind spot.

“Fit for spectacles is a real problem – people just do not understand it,” he argues, adding that eyewear is generally designed for the median person, leaving the question “what about the 75% of people who aren’t average?”

As the new tool goes through its testing phase, it’ll be used in an independent optician in London, and in a high-end tailor in the city’s Mayfair district. The latter is set to utilise the head scanning function for sunglasses fittings, highlighting the potential of the technology to help a variety of different businesses if Cubitts wishes it to do so.

Broughton says Cubitts only holds a 0.28% share of a UK spectacles market, which is dominated by Specsavers and the Luttoxica brands. His medium-term aim and that of his investors is to claim just 1% of the UK market, but there are also opportunities on a global scale.

“There’s something beautifully unifying that around the world – whether you’re in Mali or Morecambe – people will need a pair of spectacles,” he remarks.

“I have a dream we’ll reach the point where someone in Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Delhi – all on the same day – will send in their head scans for us to make their glasses here in King’s Cross, which becomes a hub serving people around the world.”

Photo credit: George Baxter