Dezeen Magazine

AX Visio binoculars by Swarovski Optik and Marc Newson

Marc Newson and Swarovski Optik create AI smart binoculars

Designed by Marc Newson and unveiled at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, Swarovski Optik's AX Visio binoculars are equipped with artificial intelligence so they can identify bird and animal species.

Swarovski Optik — the segment of the Swarovski group dedicated to sports optics such as binoculars and rifle scopes — said it considers AX Visio to be the world's first smart binoculars, capable of identifying some 9,000 species of birds and wildlife in real time.

It targets mainly birdwatchers but also hunters with the invention, which has an augmented reality display so users can see species information overlaid on the image in front of them, and don't need to look away to consult a book, phone or friend.

Image of the AX Visio binoculars viewed from directly above, showing a dark green case and black aluminium bridge and details
The AX Visio binoculars are designed for bird watchers

Users turn a digital camera-like dial to the bird or mammal identification mode to enable the feature and click a button to begin identification.

The AX Visio also includes a camera for taking photos and videos and a "share discoveries" mode that lets users mark the location of an item of interest before passing the binoculars to another person.

Without the digital features switched on, the AX Visio still functions as a set of analogue binoculars, and there is an extra lens in between the usual two objective lenses to enable the digital functions.

Image of the AX Vision binoculars with a rendering of how the AI bird identification feature appears in augmented reality over one lens
Users can see species identification information laid over their view ahead

"The AX Visio's added value for users consists of a real viewing experience that is enhanced with digital input," said Swarovski Optik chief technology and operations officer Andreas Gerk.

In an interview on the Swarovski Optik website, industrial designer Newson said that it had been special to work on a product that was the first of its kind and that integrating all of the technology — including augmented reality, Bluetooth, GPS and a camera — inside the small package had been a challenge.

"It's rare for a designer to work on something that is the first product within a category, which is naturally exciting and suffice to say, challenging," said Newson. "Binoculars are traditionally solely analogue objects, which, while compelling and 'future proof', are essentially bi-dimensional."

Photo of a man and a woman in nature sharing a pair of binoculars between them
There is also a function to help users share finds with their companions

"The AX Visio belongs to a different typology, and one that is totally new in the combination of optics and technology," he added. "Similar to a modern camera, they are optical, electronic and digital."

The AX Visio is Newson's second product for Swarovski Optik following the CL Curio, a compact pair of traditional binoculars. AX Visio has a similar extruded aluminium bridge and focus wheel placement as that design.

Newson said he aimed for the AX Visio to be "intuitive, modern and crucially, comfortable in the hand and on the eye", while also having a bit of personality.

"I wanted them to feel approachable and usable," he said. "The inclination when designing high-performance items tends for them to be purposefully complex, and I was hoping to create something that was the opposite — intuitive and inviting."

Photo of a man in close-up from over his shoulder while he looks through a large pair of binoculars
AX Visio functions as analogue binoculars when the digital settings are off

"The three-scope construction is an obvious visual departure from other binoculars, and this encompasses the solid hinge and bridge detail, joining the dots between the three lenses," he continued. "This structure took a significant amount of time to rationalise — and manufacturing expertise to realise."

The AX Visio are designed to be repairable and able to be taken apart, which Svarovski Optik says is standard for its brand, and that future updates will be available through the companion app so that the product's life cycle will be "many years".

It also has an open programming interface and welcomes external providers to develop new functionalities for the binoculars.

Photo of a dining table with sketches and two pairs of AX Visio binoculars laid across it
AX Visio was designed by Marc Newson for Swarovski Optik

The data and part of the AI model for bird identification came from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a research institute that publishes the Merlin Bird ID app. The integration into the device was handled in house at Swarovski Optik.

The binoculars were revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world's largest gadget trade fair, held yearly in Las Vegas.

Australian-born Newson is one of the world's most well known industrial designers. One of his early works, the 1990 Lockheed Lounge, is now the world's most expensive design object, and luxury items like an all-diamond ring and limited-edition samurai sword feature heavily in his oeuvre.

Among his more accessible designs are a toaster and kettle for Australian brand Sunbeam and a public toilet in Tokyo, and he is also known for working with Jony Ive at Apple.

CES 2024 takes place at various locations in Las Vegas from 9 to 12 January 2024. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

More images