The groan of disappointment was quite loud as a group of mere scribes and media persons, myself included, emerged from a black Mercedes van in the grounds of the 2019 Melbourne Formula One race. The van's windows were heavily tinted and a crowd of enthusiasts had assembled and, seeing the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport logos, had obviously hoped for the appearance of Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas.
The occasion was organised by Epson, a major sponsor of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. Earlier in the day, before we disappointed the fans, Epson took the opportunity to talk about some of its newest technology. It was mostly about its commercial range of projectors.
The hero product was the Accent Lighting Laser Projectors. These are nifty units that look like spotlights. Put them on a shop ceiling and they become pretty much invisible, yet they can project a tailored image. At the presentation, the installed unit filled a large Mercedes logo with relevant images.
There was also a large L Series WUXGA (1920 by 1200 pixel) projector with a sealed solid-state light engine. That kind of thing is perfect for long-life installation work, though less so for home theatre.
Also shown off were the Epson Moverio BT-300 augmented reality glasses. These are the same model launched early last year, but there was some new software by Appearition. Again, this is largely for promotional situations so far. It uses the built-in camera on the glasses to capture a trigger point. There were half a dozen of these — numbered stickers — attached to various parts on some Mercedes sports cars. Once triggered, the glasses showed an animation describing the underlying technology and features.
Consumer gear? Not much. But a big Epson projector event with consumer models is trailed for later this month.
'Son of the Electronic Printer'
But I did learn something quite fascinating about the Epson brand. The name 'Epson' comes from 'Son of the Electronic Printer'. As usual with modern corporate entities, Epson is part of a group of companies. But at its core, the relevant company name is Seiko Epson Corporation. That's Seiko, the wristwatch company.
I asked Nathan Fulcher, Communications Marketing Manager from Epson, about the relationship between the two businesses. He said that they operate quite independently. But then he disclosed the interesting origins of Epson itself. Seiko started off as a clock repairing business back in the 1880s, later becoming a clock and then watch manufacturer. There was no such thing as Epson back then.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, Seiko was the official time keeper company. And it was asked to produce a device to automatically print the results of the time keeping. Thus was born the company's first Electronic Printer, the EP-101 (pictured right). The second was the 'son' of the first one, and was thus branded Epson. And such was the origin of Epson.
Seiko seems to have been a company that liked to produce all its product parts, even down to lubricating oils. So it isn't surprising that Epson ended up producing its own display panels in its projectors — apparently spring-boarding from Seiko's LCD watch displays. Lenses came from Seiko's glass and lens technology related to its watches.
Indeed Epson’s full name is Seiko Epson. Orient Watch became a subsidiary in 2009, and it has more recently launched the Trume brand, whereas Seiko watches come from Seiko Holdings Corporation, a separate company under Epson’s parent the Seiko Group, although confusing the matter further, Epson is believed to OEM some Seiko watches as well.
It's surprising to think that Epson’s printer, projectors and now augmented reality eyewear have their roots in watchmaking. Perhaps it’s all a question of timing.