What are smart sunglasses and what can they do?

man wearing smart technology sunglasses

What are smart sunglasses and what all can they do? Smart sunglasses blend the best of sun protection with the latest tech — think state-of-the-art headphones, fitness trackers, cameras and even an embedded chip for credit card payments.

As intriguing as the many mind-melting features of smart glasses may be, one totally duh! innovation stands above the rest: Why not make those smarties sunglasses?

After all, the primary goals of applying computer connectivity and hands-free control to eyewear are to a) get us all outdoors and away from the screens that entrap us while b) retaining some of the visual privacy we enjoy indoors. 

Ironically, glare relief and visual privacy prompted the cutting-edge invention of sunglasses back in 12th century China, when techs shaved off layers of smoked quartz and placed them on crude frames to relieve sun-blinded landowners.

Judges quickly jumped aboard this rudimentary shade train as a means to hide their emotions while questioning witnesses and their accused. UV protection and healthy eye benefits would follow centuries after the twin goals of outdoor relief and privacy were achieved. 

Little wonder that smart sunglasses now factor into the smart eyewear breakthrough. After all, we now have the technology to not only get outdoors and maintain some privacy, but take our indoors with us.

Added plus: We may need a bit of that ancient privacy as our smart specs enable us to invade the privacy of others through audio, video and even drone recording, all at the blink of an eye.

CHECK OUT THE COOLEST, TECHIEST, GEEKIEST SHADES: Find an optical store near you or shop online.

What can smart sunglasses do? 

The features of smart sunglasses start with the smart glasses checklist: wireless microphone, bone-conduction audio input and cellphone reception, camera lens, hands-free voice searches via Alexa or Siri, and on-lens digital overlay of text and images, all controlled by a central processing unit (CPU) located on the sunglass frame. 

Then the outdoor fun begins with smart sunglasses, thanks to these add-ons: 

Real-time biofeedback: The Smith Lowdown Focus smart sunglasses uses an app and sensors in its nose pads and earpieces to monitor your eye movement, facial expressions, breathing and mental activity to help you slow down and improve your concentration. If you battle daily for mental focus, the real-time feedback and training may help. Maker: Toronto-based wearable tech company InterAxon in partnership with the Italian Safilo Group, 

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity: Can’t really leave your office for a midday stroll? Pop on your Vulix Blade smart shades and take it all with you. Powered by AR and equipped with a quad-core ARM CPU, Android/iOS phone connects and a 1080p full HD color screen, these shades provide the tools to host a robust office meeting in your physical absence.  

Fitness tracker: When you simply must leave the office in the dust, whether for a run, bike ride or outdoor call, take along a pair of wraparound Solos, the smart sunglasses that connect to fitness tech such as Garmin and Strava. The Solos app lets you view a real-time display of your workout time, pace, elevation, etc., and ditch that rhythm-breaking habit of constantly checking your watch or phone. 

Three-dimensional Imagery: Perhaps it was inevitable that social media giant Snapchat would invent Spectacles 3, a fashionable and nimble pair of smart sunglasses that use two HD cameras and four built-in microphones to create Snapchat-worthy 3D imagery. Download your Spectacles 3 images to Snapchat and really bring the fun home with 3D filters that add animation and motion to the mix. 

Gesture control: Sure, Siri jumps when you call her. But what about those moments when you don’t want to speak up? Vu Sunglasses, available in both traditional and trendy styles, help preserve your privacy by programming gestures that allow you to answer (or hang up) phone calls, adjust volume and change music tracks in complete silence. 

Finger fashion: Google Glasses started it a decade ago with their nerdy X-Men tech goggles, a look that the growing smart glasses industry has been determined to avoid since. That said, gesture control raises the possibility that techy hand fashion may become a trend.

Best example yet is Focals by North, whose stylish accessories include Loop, a four-direction finger joystick that navigates the visible smart menu. While North Focals themselves are crystal clear (so far), their stylish, nostalgic sun clips lob another retro look into the eye fashion pool. 

Sunglasses for your ears: Credit top-notch speaker maker Bose for making the connection between glare-free glasses and noise-free audio. The Bose augmented reality platform strives to keep your favorite music clear as a sunny day. 

Wearable bill payment: While virtual banking and bill payment are possible on most smart spectacles, Visa is still exploring its charge-by-sunglasses product. While it may be every beach lover’s dream to complete a kiosk transaction with the wave of their shades, it’s still unclear whether the public would embrace the idea of essentially wearing their credit cards on their face. 

Drone vision: We’ve got sunglasses to cover the athlete, the music lover and the absentee meeting host, but what about drone pilots? You guessed it: Epson Moverio BT-300FPV makes it easy for drone pilots to enjoy the show from their drone or quadcopter’s point of view while keeping the aircraft in view and monitoring its flight status, all at the same time.

While technically the BT-300FPV vision is not a sunglasses view but instead visible under a dark lens shade, the unit will easily slip over your everyday shades. 

What’s ahead for smart sunglasses? 

Positive consumer feedback for the evolving first generation of smart glasses and sunglasses has major players Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Snap, Facebook and Apple streamlining and accessorizing what they hope will be the major market shift from nerd tech to must-have.

Not surprisingly, smart specs are also making deep inroads as an industrial tool as they tap into nostalgic styles and retro sleekness to win over the rest of us. 

A good example of the industrial model is Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, a super-nerdy, super-expensive ($3,500-ish) headset that may make life much easier for everyone, including our military, by overlaying assembly details, landscapes and group chats across their hands-on industrial work. 

On the social side, Facebook has partnered with Ray-Ban parent company Luxottica to refine Orion, an AR all-day-wearable smart headset designed to replace our smartphones by 2025.

Amazon, Microsoft and Snapchat are also busy designing stylish phone-busting models at an affordable price. 

What’s the future of smart sunglasses? As ’80s rockers Timbuk 3 put it succinctly, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

NOT-YET-SMART SUNGLASSES: Until smart shades catch on and are affordable, shop for the best sunglasses for your needs and lifestyle at an optical shop near you or online.

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