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Forget Google Glass, Recon debuts Android-friendly glasses at I/O

The maker of heads-up displays for ski goggles unveils sunglasses with a tiny computer monitor at Google's developers conference. But they don't use Google Glass tech.

Recon Instruments Chief Marketing Officer Tom Fowler tested the company's Jet heads-up display sunglasses during a chilly bike ride earlier this year.
Recon Instruments

No doubt, Google executives will spend plenty of time at the annual Google I/O conference that begins Wednesday in San Francisco talking about Google Glass, and all the opportunities for developers to create programs for the geeky eyewear.

But outside the conference hall, a Google partner plans to unveil a pair of sunglasses that comes with its own heads-up display. Even though Google invited the company, Recon Instruments, to demonstrate the glasses at its premier developer event of the year, the specs have nothing to do with Google Glass.

Instead, Recon is launching Jet, heads-up display glasses using its own technology. Recon's glasses come with a tiny monitor, like Google Glass, except that it sits near the bottom of the field of vision for the right eye rather than the top. The heads-up display unit includes a dual-core processor; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity; GPS and movement sensors; and a high-definition camera; among other features. That technology lets people wearing Jet-equipped glasses track and film their movements, for example, and upload that data to the Web.

Vancouver-based Recon isn't shying away from the Google Glass resemblance. After all, Google Glass has generated the kind of press coverage about which a tiny company like Recon could only dream.

"There's some similarity to Google Glass," said Tom Fowler, Recon's chief marketing officer. "From our perspective, that's a welcome comparison."

What's more, Google's interest in wearable technology is bound to boost consumer interest.

"They have very deep pockets. They have very smart people. And they are great marketers," Fowler said. "We're thankful they are in the space."

Unlike Google, Recon is already selling eyewear with heads-up displays. It's pioneered putting tiny monitors and a variety of sensors in ski goggles to display speed, distance, vertical descent data, and more. Top goggle makers, such as Oakley, Smith Optics, and Zeal Optics, among others, include Recon's heads-up display units in their goggles, charging upward of $450 for a set.

CNET reviewed the goggles last winter and found the technology lacking. But Recon has pressed on, working on fixes for the goggle hardware and software while developing its Jet technology as well.

Google invited Recon to I/O, as it did a year ago, because it uses some components from the Web giant's Android mobile operating system. This year, Recon will demonstrate apps that run on Jet, including live activity tracking; video streaming; Web and smartphone connectivity; and Facebook integration.

Recon is staking out a space for itself in activity-specific use for its glasses. It expects cyclists, for example, to use its glasses, giving them data about their rides -- such as speed, distance traveled, and power output -- at a glance.

"We are all about athlete-centered design," Fowler said. "We're not trying to make a product that you will put on in the morning and wear around all day."

Another difference: the openness of Recon's software platform, said Ben McConnell, Recon's director of product platforms. Developers can use the software development kit from Recon and hook into GPS and data from other sensors in the hardware. Recon said it's currently working with fitness companies to develop apps for its platform. Some Google developers have already begun griping about the limitations of the Glass application programming interface.

"We feel the openness of our platform is an advantage," McConnell said.

Unlike the ski goggles, Recon intends to sell Jet glasses under the Recon brand. Initially, it plans to have one model that will come in multiple frame and lens colors. The company plans to start selling the glasses by the end of the year.

Here's a video, produced by Recon, that demonstrates the possibilities that the company sees for its Jet glasses: