Sunglasses manufacturer Oakley is working on its own augmented reality glasses technology, the company’s CEO has confirmed, taking on Google’s Project Glass with both standalone and tethered functionality. The wearables research has been going on for fifteen years, chief exec Colin Baden told Bloomberg, initially centering on sports applications though with plenty of other possibilities on the drawing board. “Ultimately, everything happens through your eyes,” Baden points out, “and the closer we can bring it to your eyes, the quicker the consumer is going to adopt the platform.”
“As an organization, we’ve been chasing this beast since 1997 … Obviously, you can think of many applications in the competitive field of sports,” Baden continued. “That’s the halo point of where we would begin, but certainly you can transcend that into a variety of other applications.”
Exact functionality of Oakley’s prototypes has not been detailed, though both standalone and tethered modes should be supported. In the former, the AR glasses would be a self-contained system, similar perhaps to Oakley’s existing Thump MP3 sunglasses; in the latter, they would connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone, and could respond to Siri-style voice commands, Baden says.
Much of Oakley’s research – and a large amount of its 600 patents relating to wearables – has apparently centered around optical specifications. “There’s a lot of interesting optical issues that come up when you’re trying to create a positive experience when interacting with these devices,” Baden explains, “so the technology barrier to success is significant.” If users can’t successfully blend together the virtual content with the real-world view, that could prompt headaches and discourage use, not to mention being a safety issue while wearers are moving around.
Baden says Oakley will consider licensing its patented tech, though wouldn’t confirm whether the company’s own Thump range would be expanded with an AR headset any time soon. There’s also no indication of timelines for availability, though the chief exec did warn that the first generations wouldn’t be cheap.