Like Google, Oakley Has Been Working on Its Own ‘Project Glass’

Photograph by Everett Collection

Google's Project Glass: Terminator-like functionality, but Terminator style?

Google generated a lot of buzz over its effort to display information on eyeglasses, Terminator-style. Less clear is whether the search giant can create something cool enough that would make someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger want to wear it.

Crafting a pair of glasses that looks stylish will be among the biggest challenges for Google, said Colin Baden, chief executive of Oakley, the sunglass maker that is a division of Luxottica Group, which also owns Ray-Ban and LensCrafters.

“People get very particular when they put stuff on their face,” he said in a phone interview.

When Google unveiled Project Glass this month, the conceptual images of the work-in-progress resembled a less obstructive version of the visor that actor LeVar Burton wore in Star Trek.

Courtesy Google

Google is experimenting with glasses that could one day offer features similar to a smartphone.

Oakley has been working on technology similar to Google’s Glass, and its product is expected to cater to athletes at first, Baden said. Voice control may be the most effective way to operate them, and the device should be self-contained but also interact wirelessly with a smartphone, he said.

“We’re a sports performance lifestyle brand, so obviously you can think of many applications in the competitive field of sports,” he said. “That’s the halo point of where we would begin, but certainly you can transcend that into a variety of other applications.”

For about 15 years, Oakley has been testing data-enhanced glasses, Baden said. Oakley has about 600 patents, and many of them could apply to so-called smart glasses, he said, adding that the company would consider licensing them.

Photograph by Getty Images for Oakley

Oakley CEO Colin Baden, seen here at the launch of a new store in London last year, said the company has been working on technology similar to Google’s Glass.

“As an organization, we’ve been chasing this beast since 1997,” Baden said. “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. But 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. So the technology barrier to success is significant.”

Google probably has the technical chops to overcome those hurdles, but the brainiacs in Mountain View, California, may have a tougher time getting fashionistas to sport a metallic unibrow.

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