April 17, 2012 at 5:48 PM ET
Google's "Project Glass" concept video captured the imagination of the Internet with its vision of how we might someday soon search, take pictures, and chat through augmented reality. But critics pointed out that Google's hardware isn't quite up to the task just yet. To be fair, Google isn't an eyewear company. But Oakley is, and it turns out they've been working on this problem for quite some time.
Oakley CEO Colin Baden told Bloomberg in an interview that they've "been chasing this beast since 1997," though as yet have not been able to produce a marketable product. They do, however, have a number of patents along those lines -- like this one, from which the image at left is taken.
The idea of having an image projected onto eyewear or even directly onto the retina is not new; its applications are so apparent that many companies have been doing R&D on the subject for years. Recently a display was even put on a contact lens.
"The technology barrier to success is significant," said Baden, and the first few versions would likely be very expensive. And Google, despite having acquired hardware maker Motorola Mobility recently, is not likely to create a working product before Oakley. They are already familiar with mounting electronics onto their products, creating things like their Thump series of sunglasses-integrated MP3 players.
Notably, Oakley is a brand associated with both utility and fashion, and if they created an augmented reality headset, it would almost certainly be more warmly received than the widely-mocked Project Glass prototype worn by Google CEO Sergey Brin. Once the technology barrier is passed, after all, the next barrier is convincing people to wear the device in public.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.