Kent’s AlphaMicron Inc. has sold a few thousand of its original motorcycle visor inserts that instantly grow lighter or darker, changing tint to block out the sun.
That might not seem like much, but it was done with no advertising — apart from the company’s website and appearances at trade shows.
Now, AlphaMicron — which uses liquid crystal technology to create flexible materials that change color or tint — is promoting its new and improved version of the insert that it hopes will rev up sales. Liquid crystals are used in a variety of products, including cellphones, laptops and flat-screen TVs.
“We did quite a lot of revamping,” AlphaMicron’s CEO Bahman Taheri said, improving on the initial version of the insert in big and small ways. “I think this insert will do really well.”
Taheri said that for a motorcyclist, having the ability to instantly change a visor’s tint is no small matter.
“You ride into and out of tunnels, [you] are in different lighting conditions,” he said. “You have that freeway sun and the freeway kind of curves and the sun is now behind you.”
One of the big changes in the new and improved visor insert: It now can be easily transferred from one face shield to another and is more aerodynamic.
Also, the insert now tints 10 percent darker.
“We had a pretty large customer request for that,” said Ysabel Price, a member of the sales team for AlphaMicron, noting the company solicited customer feedback on earlier versions.
Another big change: the battery life is longer. (The battery is enclosed in the button used to change the tint function from manual to automatic.)
Ross Armbruster, a sales and project manager for AlphaMicron, said the earlier versions weren’t heavily promoted because they were essentially “beta versions to gather feedback for product improvement.”
AlphaMicron will show off the new visor insert at the inaugural American International Motorcycle Expo Oct. 16-20 in Orlando, Fla. The show — for motorcyclists as well as those in the motorcycle industry — is modeled after a successful trade show in Italy, known for its love of motorcycles.
The visor will be available this month through the website of AlphaMicron’s affiliate, AMI Powersports (amipowersports.com). It sells for $149.99.
The motorcycle expo will include manufacturers of motorcycles and equipment, including helmets.
Taheri said the company already has signed up with helmet makers Akuma and AGV to market inserts.
Technology advocate NorTech also is promoting the product as part of the region’s emerging flexible electronics industry. NorTech has dubbed the industry cluster FlexMatters; the “flex” refers to the flexible plastic on which the electronics are printed.
The visor insert is only the second consumer product developed and manufactured by the 35 to 40 employees at AlphaMicron, which gets a large portion of its revenues through research grants and contracts. The company has its research, development and production facilities at Kent State University’s Centennial Research Park, off state Route 59.
AlphaMicron’s other consumer product is a ski goggle that tints with the push of a button.
About 10 employees are involved in manufacturing the products. Taheri said there are no plans to move production outside of Kent, or the United States.
The products are complex, he said, and “not something you can farm out to someone else” easily.
He added, “We want the products to be made in the USA,” creating local jobs and attracting buyers who want U.S. products.
AlphaMicron’s desire to keep manufacturing its products in Northeast Ohio has been supported by the state, which has contributed millions in Third Frontier funding to company projects.
Taheri and two other former Kent State University faculty members, involved with Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute, founded AlphaMicron in 1997 to carry out research involving visors worn by U.S. Air Force pilots. Through that grant, AlphaMicron developed a patented, flexible, liquid-crystal film that can be applied to curved surfaces — such as motorcycle visors.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.