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Move aside, Google: Oakley has been testing augmented reality glasses for 15 years

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The world of augmented reality glasses is about to get a little more crowded. Just two weeks after Google unveiled its Project Glass AR glasses project to the world, sunglasses maker Oakley has revealed that it, too, is developing technology to display information on a pair of specs. In fact, it has been working on this effort for the past 15 years.

“As an organization, we’ve been chasing this beast since 1997,” said Colin Baden, Oakley CEO, in an interview with Bloomberg. “Ultimately, everything happens through your eyes, and the closer we can bring it to your eyes, the quicker the consumer is going to adopt the platform.”

While Baden is light on technical details about the pre-production AR glasses, he says that Oakley will likely target the athletic market first, and then expand from there. Unfortunately, he also says that there is a high “technology barrier to success” with AR glasses, because of the complications of getting the optics right. So it appears unlikely that we’ll see a consumer product of this type from Oakley anytime soon. In fact, we’d wager that the only reason Oakley is talking about this now is because of the splash Google made with Project Glass — not because there’s an imminent product launch.

Of course, the introduction of AR glasses would not be the first time Oakley packed mobile technology into a pair of glasses. The Oakely Thumps, which combine an MP3 player and headphones into a pair of sunglasses, have been around since 2004. But because of their relatively high price ($130 for 512MB of storage), they haven’t sold well. (Baden says they are still a profitable product for the company.) Given that, it seems likely that glasses that include the functionality of a smartphone would cost somewhere around the price of a two-bedroom house.

Despite Oakely’s long research process, it appears as though Google is further along with its Project Glass glasses. We’ve already seen images of what the glasses look like, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin was recently spotted wearing a pair in the wild.

Even if Google or Oakley or some other company released a pair today, it’s not entirely clear whether many people would actually want to wear them. Regardless, we can’t help but think that, if done right, this kind of technology could be the future of mobile devices. Whether it actually will, we’ll just have to wait and see.

(Pictured: Oakley Thumps)

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