A VAGUE IDEA IN 2009 LED TO A LONG, INTENSIVE, AND EXCITING DEVELOPMENT PROCESS, CULMINATING IN THE ‘BIRTH’ OF THE CURRENT NL PURE SERIES. CLOSER LOOKS BACK WITH THE TWO PEOPLE BEHIND THE PROJECT, DALE FORBES AND PETER ÖTTL, AND PRESENTS A FASCINATING INNOVATION STORY.
2009. The EL SWAROVISION had just been announced and wildlife watchers were eagerly anticipating the highly innovative technology. And the EL series was in fact welcomed euphorically all over the world as these binoculars ideally met birdwatchers’ needs. And for SWAROVSKI OPTIK, they became an exemplary success story. But the innovation wheel never stops turning and, that same year, our product management began to reflect on ‘the next big thing’ after the EL series. Different experts from a wide range of departments were called upon and given free rein to redesign, rethink, and redevelop.
Dale Forbes, Head of Strategic Business Development: “The best ideas always came from people who contributed their very diverse experiences and views. We began brainstorming even in 2009. Our aim was to top the EL binoculars – although it was very clear this would be no easy task. But, even after the first meetings, ergonomics emerged as the key area. Secondly, we decided to move the focusing wheel to the bottom rather than the top. We continued to work on these two ideas – how to improve handling and ergonomics. The company’s trust was a continuous source of motivation, because we didn’t necessarily need to further develop the EL – we could approach it all completely differently.”
Dale Forbes: “In the fall of 2014, we held a series of workshops that we all remember even today. We invited along people including an osteopath and a physiotherapist, both experienced binocular users, and spent hours bombarding them with questions, such as:
What is a natural position?
Where should the shoulders be? What about the elbows?
How do the straps need to sit to be able to carry binoculars for long periods?
Where are the pain points?
Can you use your thumb to focus – or other fingers, or
does it always need to be the index finger?
This opened up new and completely different approaches. Of course, it wasn’t possible to incorporate all the ideas, but it was still fascinating to learn more about how the body works. We needed to understand the ‘pressure points,’ i.e., where the weight of the binoculars should lie. The answer is precisely between the thumb and the palm. But the most fascinating insight was the fact that the natural shape of the arm is angled slightly outward rather than straight. And the hand is never in a perfectly round shape as this is tiring. An oval shape is the most naturally relaxed position for the human hand. We were then able to incorporate this valuable knowledge in the design.”
Peter Öttl, Development Engineer: “As an engineer, I always linked ergonomics to weight and the question of just how slim we can make the housing. In one of these workshops in 2014, we had a real flash of inspiration: looking at a sketch, I realized the prisms needed to be rotated in order to make the waist of the binoculars slimmer, easier to grasp, and significantly more ergonomic. This was a major milestone. The next challenge was the reinvention of the focus shaft, an element that called for absolute precision. We had to create a rotational movement that would cause the focus shaft to move a set of lenses around 7-9 mm back and forth while ensuring that the movement in both channels was absolutely synchronized. For this right-left precision, we’re talking about hundredths of a millimeter that need to move together – if they’re even the tiniest bit out of sync the image simply won’t work. Unfortunately, a classic, straight focus shaft would not work and so we had to devise a diagonal drive system.
As well as creating an even more direct connection between the rotational wheel and lenses, this also brought another advantage: if the focus shafts ran diagonally to each other, this would automatically expand the ergonomic wraparound grip. My aim was to remove even the smallest gap to make the binoculars lighter and easier to handle. Thanks to all these innovative approaches, we not only managed to save weight, but also invented the ‘wasp waist,’ which gives the NL Pure its distinctive look and feel. SWAROVSKI OPTIK has now of course applied for a patent for the drive. And last but not least, the forehead rest with three support points allows longer and more comfortable observation.”
Dale Forbes: “As well as the ergonomics, we wanted to set new standards for optics too. We set ourselves the challenge of creating the widest field of view to date with barely discernible edges. We are particularly pleased that as well as 8x and 10x magnification, we have also achieved 12x magnification with the NL Pure. The combination of perfect ergonomics and the newly developed forehead rest now allows shake-free observing even with 12x magnification. And thanks to the amazingly wide field of view, there are no restrictions even at high magnification – all of which make the NL Pure such a success!”