For four-eyes only: The Google Glass future is here

Google started it; now the peeper parade has taken over CES, where several strains of smart glasses litter the show floor

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We're heading that way, if this year's CES is any indication. Google Glass is out in force, promising up and down that its pioneering headset will become widely available soon -- real soon. It'd better because the other alpha dogs are right on its tail.

The glass gold rush

Wandering through the Venetian, you'll find GlassUp displaying its new prototype spectacles (complete with steampunk smokestack action), as well as another set of shades, known as iOptik, from a company called Innovega that sounds like it came by its moniker from a Young Entrepreneurs name-your-startup contest. Vuzix is back showing Gen Two of the glasses it brought last year, and Lumus is hyping its own smart focals that look cool enough to attract attention -- until you find out the company isn't hawking the glasses, just the optics, which are, admittedly, pretty great. Big dog Epson America is giving the startups a run for their VC money in the Las Vegas Convention Center, flaunting its next-gen Moverio tech specs. There are more, but I'm getting tired.

The smart glasses I've mentioned so far are all similar in that they're designed as either accessories or mini-personal computing devices -- an extension of smartphones or tablets that should someday be able to perform all the functions of either, albeit with a touch of vertigo. But if you're looking to get really nauseous, step up to the Meta Pro 3D "augmented reality" glasses.

Put it this way: Darth Vader would've worn these devil Ray Bans if he'd become a highway patrol officer. Also, they harken me back to the days of Comdex. Just like the balance-limiting IBM wearables of then, the Meta Pros of now are tethered to a full-on "pocket" computer packed with goodies like an Intel i5, 4GB of RAM, USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and all the rest. It's smaller than what the Big Blue crew lugged around in their utility belts, but it has a much larger scope.

Meta Pro isn't just adding information to your normal pedestrian experience -- it's looking to augment your reality. It does so by layering a bit of its own reality onto yours. You can wander through your 3D life getting 2D information with Glass and the rest, but you can also flick into a 3D environment, which the Meta Pro pocket computer allows you to manipulate with your hands. The best example is the demo app, which lets the wearer mold a virtual image, then birth it on a 3D printer. Yes, like everyone else, I have to say it: When you're wearing them, the interface looks a lot like what Robert Downey Jr. was supposed to see in his "Iron Man" helmet.

Cool? Hell yes! But it gets a little scary when you hear the CEO talking about how this functionality will be shrinkable to a contact lens in a few years, then onto a chip that could be implanted behind your optic nerve -- and he's not alone. I don't know if I want to walk around with this thing all the time. That could get irritating, like in the shower or during, er, intimate moments. What if your Xfinity TV stream gets stuck on CNBC or the Weather Channel? Tech support on cyborg peripherals could open the door to a whole new definition of "invasive" ... but that's getting beyond the Obvious, which is all we needed to cover today.

CES 2014's Obvious is smart glasses; they really are here, you really will be seeing them on the sidewalk soon, and you really will be laughing when some wearers walk into light poles right in front of you. While you're snarky about them today, you'll probably succumb and buy one when the price falls below $200. And you'll be especially happy to have them when they interface with your personal health monitor to let you know which bones you broke while falling down the stairs.

Would you buy a pair of smart glasses? Or do you prefer to augment your reality the old-fashioned way? Post your comments below or via email:

This article, "For four-eyes only: The Google Glass future is here," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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