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Move Over Google: Oakley's Got Smart Glasses, Too

Oakley CEO Colin Baden said Tuesday that Oakley's efforts will initially target athletes.

Long before Google wowed us with its Google glasses, another company silently planned smart glasses of its own. Eyewear manufacturer Oakley says it has a 15-year head start on Google, and has been working on projecting information on its lenses since 1997.

Both Google and Oakley's glasses make use of a technology called augmented reality. Think of it as a mix of your virtual and real life: Information about your surroundings is placed in the field of view on the glasses, thus augmenting or enhancing reality.

CEO Colin Baden told Bloomberg in an interview on Tuesday that Oakley's efforts will initially target athletes. The company also has a military subsidiary known as Eye Safety Systems, and Baden says his company's augmented reality technology may find a home there, too. Unfortunately, he did not show the actual glasses.

Oakley appears much further along than Google in making its product a reality. However Baden is mum as to when we'll actually see Oakley's smart glasses. He does say the market is "ripe" for such technology.

An Idea Not Ready for Prime Time?

The same negatives that I brought up discussing Project Glass with my colleague Howard Baldwin apply here. Baden himself admits that anything Oakley will release will be prohibitively expensive. He also wants the project to function on its own, rather than having some bulky accessory to wear along with the glasses themselves, and that will only add to the cost.

Will these glasses give a wearer an unfair advantage? So much is made these days of athletes getting that from "performance-enhancing drugs." A wearer of Oakley enhances sunglasses could have a clear advantage over the non-wearer.

Need to know when to hit that baseball? No fear, your Oakley shades will tell you. A home run every time!

Then there's my biggest pet peeve with augmented reality, and that's the distraction of it all. We have enough items attempting to draw our attention away from the real world without things whizzing around in our field of vision. How is wearing these type of lenses any less distracting than texting?

I am sure there are some great uses for augmented reality--perhaps easier way to communicate for a handicapped person, for example-- but, so far, the truly killer applications for AR are nowhere to be found. It's a cool idea, but perhaps it's one that needs a little more time to mature.

For more tech news and commentary, follow Ed on Twitter at @edoswald, on Facebook, or on Google+.

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