Cyborg Chic Shades Create Specialized Vision

Sci-fi fantasy has fused with fashion eyewear to create new accessories for modern multi-taskers.

In T3Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) sees not only people and places, but also information scrolling in front of his eyes. As futuristic as that sounds, the ability to view data while wearing shades and walking down the street is a reality.

Eyetop sunglasses allow wearers to see images projected on a high-resolution miniature screen positioned in one lens. So, instead of holding up your palm pilot to read a downloaded book, you can just put on your shades.

The glasses — a splurge at $699.99 — plug into just about anything equipped with a video output, such as portable video players and TVs, digital cameras, digital camcorders and PDAs, which feed the images onto the glasses' screen.

While there have been dual-eye viewing goggles in the past, Eyetop’s innovation is in allowing people to watch the screen with one eye while looking at their surroundings with the other.

Eliot Van Buskirk, senior editor of CNET reviews, said the product could provide advantages in certain professions, but is less appealing to the average consumer.

“The way police have laptops in their car now, I can see them having wireless palms on their hip and wearing the glasses, running IDs on people while they walk around," he said.

Eyetop, however, insists that the glasses aren't so specialized. “The product is for the consumer first,” said company spokeswoman Virginie Maujean.

Van Buskirk acknowledged there are cool ways consumers could use the souped-up sunglasses. For example, by connecting them to a camcorder, a person filming an event could get a full-screen view of what they're taping.

“If you’re trying to film a sporting event, your field of vision is wider than when you hold a camcorder up to your face,” he explained.

But Buskirk said overall, the Cyclops ideology is better on paper than in reality.

“I can picture hyperactive multi-tasker types accessing their PDA and viewing it walking around," he said. "But you wouldn’t want to be in motion or driving while viewing a TV show or a movie."

Dr. Mitchell Cassel, an optometrist at New York City eyeglass boutique Studio Optix (search), said watching something in your glasses while walking is a “ludicrous” notion, adding that it could be dangerous to use hand-eye-coordination skills while being mobile and distracted.

However, Maujean said common sense will keep Eyetop wearers safe.

“You have to pay attention to the traffic when you walk down the street. If you cross the street and look at the screen ... you have to be careful, but you can use it in a mobile situation," she said. "It’s safe.”

Another eyewear product with even more features was recently announced by Motorola iDen (search) and frog design (search). Like the Eyetop, Offspring Wearables Concept sunglasses have a screen wearers can watch out of one eye while simultaneously staying in touch with their surroundings.

In addition, Offspring glasses have a digital camera, ear bud and microphone all integrated into the frame, and a tethered cord runs out the back to a power supply worn in a belt or stashed in your bag.

The glasses are also wirelessly connected to cell phones and other peripheral products, said spokesman Paul Brunato. But you’ll have to wait to don these — the expected launch date isn't until 2005.

Yet these technologically advanced shades should take heed from their predecessors’ fall. Glasses that resemble virtual reality goggles haven’t fared as well in the past.

The Eye-Trek (search) from Olympus is no longer produced. And Sony’s Glasstron (search) was discontinued several years ago, according to a company representative, who added that the product has developed a sort of cult following since its demise.

The one-eyed wonders may be high-tech but will they be considered stylish? Wearing glasses with a dangling cord plugged into another apparatus may conjure the image of a state-of-the-art four-eyes.

“It’s the same problem with wearable computers,” said Buskirk. “The geek factor of looking like a cyborg is there — unless you were trying to be a super impressive Hollywood agent and look connected.”

Cassel, whose boutique has a wall of celebrity headshots like fashion darling Gwyneth Paltrow, laughed when asked if the glasses were stylish.

“They’re not exactly fashion forward,” he said. “They will only attract a specific audience — young, upscale and high-tech.”