Jose Antonio Viladoms (A.K.A. Vila) is an inventor, industrial designer and has been diving since the age of 15. Born in Mexico City, he has 20 years worth of experience in product design, and is currently the Head of the Design Department and Founding Partner of AAK Diving.
Scubaverse.com’s Jeff Goodman caught up with Vila yesterday to talk to him about AAK Diving’s revolutionary new product, the AAK 180 Diving Mask.
Jeff: Hi Jose. First of all, I would like to say I think the design of your AAK 180 scuba mask is fantastic and I look forward to doing a video review of it at a later date. I personally think it will revolutionize how other designers think about the future of their own products. It reminds me in a way of the old style masks that Cousteau used to wear with the single lens that showed a great deal of the divers face which was very stylized and attractive.
What made you look at designing a new concept in diving masks?
Jose: As a designer you are always looking at how to redesign everything! Sometimes it´s really annoying, but that’s how a designer’s brain works. And as a diver I’ve always wondered why nobody has ever made a mask with a really wider view. My father was a diver. Actually he learned how to dive before he learned how to swim, and thanks to him I got really interested in diving. He used to have a diving mask with a single round lens and with a couple of horns inside for equalising. From that concept and an abstraction on the face of a turtle is how the 180 was born. And that’s also the origin of the name of the company. AAK in the mayan language means turtle.
Jeff: What are the main features and how will using it differ from the more conventional designs?
Jose: The main feature of the 180 is the much wider view. Many people don´t realize that diving is all about sightseeing. When you go into a forest for 5 hours you might see 3 or 4 different species of animals; but when you go diving on a reef, in 50 minutes you can see at least 10 different species of animals.
The shape and the design of the mask ensures the bubbles from the regulator go around the mask instead of in front of it. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s also really cool!
The comfort that the 180 Diving Mask offers is great. It has a soft and skin-friendly material and there is wider contact to the face, so after a while you don’t even feel the mask.
One of my concerns when I was designing it was not changing the functionality of the mask, so you can still do all the usual things like equalising, flooding the mask etc, but with a much wider view and with a design that doesn´t look like a piece of equipment. I think divers also want to look cool.
Jeff: Is there any distortion at all throughout the field of vision?
Jose: There is no distortion, double vision, or dizziness. However, the usual masks are made of glass and as you know, that magnifies things. The 180 is made of optical policarbonate so this material does not amplify objects.
Jeff: The mask is quite wide on the face – more so than conventional masks. Does this effect the seal at all?
Jose: Not at all. The shape of the skirt allows a bigger contact point with the face in just the right places where it should. We have even tried the mask on men with moustaches, and even in those cases it has a great seal.
Jeff: What were the main mechanical and optical problems with designing and making such a wide vision mask?
Jose: In the 180, optical problems were the most difficult to solve. The human eye is made to see in the open air and the open air does not reflect light, but water does – and that makes optics underwater extremely difficult. So we did a lot of optical studies with different materials, different shapes and different curves. We actually made about 283 prototypes to get the right shape and materials. After that, the problem was to get the right blend of materials that provided the right vision, comfort and style.
Jeff: Are there any new innovations in the materials the mask is made from?
Jose: Yes, the policarbonate we are using is an optical policarbonate with nano additives. The TPE is specially produced to have the required softness and the required resistance to salt water and sun, but we also have to ensure a secure adherence to the policarbonate, so we are injecting the 2 pieces together and have a better seal as a result.
Jeff: Are there different sizes or are you expecting one size to fit all?
Jose: Right now we only have one size that fits around 85% of all adults and we are working on a smaller size for children. We are also working on the technical 180.
Jeff: Will there be a good choice of colours, and if there are, what made you chose them?
Jose: We’re going to start with 3 colours. The grey (it’s a very soft, warm grey), the red and the black. I chose grey as our main colour because we are doing something totally different, so the colour had to be different too.
Jeff: From the photos, the mask strap also looks interesting. What’s different about it?
Jose: The strap its also very revolutionary. First of all, it fits on the top of the head making it very comfortable even for people with long hair, and it has a clip system that allows you extend the strap, so after your dive, instead of choking on your mask, the mask will fall on your chest.
Jeff: Who are you hoping will be your main market?
Jose: When we started the project, the target market was recreational divers, but after we presented it at DEMA last year, there was a lot of interest from the more technical divers and even military divers, so the market has evolved!
Jeff: I see that you are still looking to finalize funding and at the moment have approximately 75% of the money you need to commence full manufacture and are looking for further investment through indiegogo which allows smaller public investors to have a stake in your project. Is this route proving to be successful?
Jose: Yes, very much. We have had people visiting the indiegogo page from 157 different countries. Some of them have even said ” I don’t dive, but I love your design and I want to learn to dive now”! So its a great way not just to get funds but also to get to now the product. To tell you the truth, while on this journey I have encountered some amazing people that have helped a lot to get this product out there.
Jeff: What is the overall total budget needed and how much more do you need to raise to start full commercial production? What is the minimum figure that people can invest?
Jose: To get the initial production going we need to raise $23,000 USD. We then need to raise a further $20,000 USD to get the AAK 180 to market – maybe not in 157 countries, but at least in 35. People can go to indiegogo and support us for as little as $5.00 USD or they can contribute any amount they want. We have some incredible perks at a very low price for this campaign – and all those who support us with a contribution will be the first to have an AAK 180 Diving Mask.
The AAK 180 Diving Mask is our first project, but we are now working on new items of diving equipment. As a company, our mission is to design and manufacture better equipment for better diving, and the 180 is our launch product. But you’re going to see more cool diving stuff from us!
Jeff: Thanks Jose and I wish you every success.
Help Jose and his team hit their funding target so they can get the revolutionary AAK 180 Diving Mask into dive shops by visiting the AAK 180 Diving Mask Indiegogo page now!