Recon Jet smart sunglasses – first look
By James Huang | Wednesday, June 26, 2013 7.00pm
The new Recon Jet glasses pack an incredible amount of technology into a very compact package, including a heads-up display, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, a rechargeable lithium polymer battery, an infrared eye tracker that automatically turns the display on and off as needed, and an optical touch sensor for navigating the various functions James Huang/Future Publishing
Imagine a situation where you have instant access to a vast trove of ride data and information, all without turning your gaze away from the road or trail: power output, speed, distance, turn-by-turn directions, text messages, warnings from your team director, you name it. All that – and maybe more – could be within reach with the Recon Jet sunglasses (US$599, no word on UK availability yet).
The glasses are bolstered with GPS, WiFi, ANT+, Bluetooth 4.0, accelerometers, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, a front-facing HD camera, a microphone, speakers, an altimeter, a barometer, a thermometer, and a micro-USB rechargeable Li-polymer battery.
They have 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM, 8GB of flash memory, and a modified version of the popular – and powerful – Android operating system running on a dual-core processor with dedicated graphics. So it's safe to say they offer enormous potential in terms of available information.
Best of all, all that data is presented via a tiny, adjustable heads-up display that's built into the lower edge of the lens – just direct your eyes slightly downward and it's right there, with little refocusing required.
Actual resolution is a modest 428x240 pixels, but Recon claims it's the equivalent of a "30in screen viewed at a distance of 7ft" thanks to some clever optical engineering. According to Recon, only people with "very specific" eye conditions will have trouble seeing the screen.
We're not sure we'd go quite that far but, admittedly, the miniscule full-color display does look clearer, sharper, and more vivid in person than the figures would suggest.
The Jet glasses with come several polarized lens tints
That Recon Instruments was able to pack such an enormous amount of hardware into a comparatively miniscule space is quite a feat. But it's how all of it can be used that's truly groundbreaking, particularly when paired with a compatible smartphone, Garmin or similar computer, or even an action video camera.
Want the basics, such as speed, distance, and time? Done. Need a constant power output display with alerts for key segments on a time trial? Done. How about turn-by-turn directions using the onboard GPS chip and additional data transmitted from your phone? Done.
Want to know exactly how far up the road your Recon-enabled (via the Jet glasses or a free app) riding buddies are on a 3D map or rangefinder-type screen? Done. Or maybe you just want to know what music you're streaming from your phone? Done. Would you feel safer with a live view from a rear-facing Bluetooth-connected camera? Done. How about ride updates to Facebook and Twitter in real time plus instant ranking reports when you've completed a Strava segment? Done, done, and done.
All that information can be accessed via the Jet sunglasses' built-in optical touch sensor. Simply swipe back and forth (or up and down) as you would on a smartphone to navigate through the various screens and menus, then push the sensor to make your selection. If that's too much trouble, you can use voice commands – well, maybe.
Recon is still finalizing the Jet's associated firmware, but with such a flexible platform the company says all of the above is well within the realm of possibility. It has also made an associated software developer kit (SDK) publically available, so that others can customize the system as they wish. In essence, the Jet is more of a wearable bike computer than eyewear with a screen – sort of like Google Glasses for cyclists and runners.
This is a basic example of what's possible on the Recon Jet glasses
Tech-heads are likely to find a lot of appeal here, but there are some potential applications for the pro racing scene, too. Recon has struck up a relationship with self-admitted early adopter George Hincapie and, though he's recently retired, he claims he would have used the Jet glasses if they were available during his career.
"[It's a] safer way to check your data – faster and cleaner," he said during a Skype call BikeRadar recently attended at Recon's headquarters in Vancouver, Canada. "Most athletes are obsessed with their numbers. This is a great way to enhance your focus on the road and get your information instantly."
Though the Recon Jet sunglasses might be useful in a road race (sort of the next step in race radios, if you will), Hincapie feels the most natural applications would be in time trials.
"Every second counts [in a time trial]," he said. "The data states that the more movement you have, the more time you're going to lose. This is the way to keep your head from moving."
Recon Jet glasses – the details
It's a good thing the Recon Jet glasses offer so much computing power because, unfortunately, they're not particularly pretty. Rather than integrate the electronics directly into a bigger, non-folding frame (imagine an inflated version of Oakley's old Pro M Frames), Recon's designers decided to retain the folding earstems and house all the extra hardware in two pods affixed to the lower edge of the lens.
The battery sits on one side, and everything else is on the other side, with a small cable running through the frame to connect the two. It's an admirably well balanced system when it's on your face, and with the extra hardware adding just 28g (claimed), it doesn't seem overly cumbersome.
Even so, the screen still blocks the lower edge of the right-hand lens. And, let's face it, no one is going to be going incognito when wearing these, although Recon said the in-your-face styling is intentional.
The little black square is the optical touch sensor for the Recon Jet glasses
Charging is done via a conventional micro-USB port – which can also be used for data transfer – and Recon claims the Jet will run for about nine hours, thanks in part to an infrared eye sensor that will automatically turn the display on and off. "It's like the light in the refrigerator," said company PR agent Mark Riedy.
Unlike the company's goggles (collaborative products with partners Alpina, Briko, Oakley, Scott, Smith Optics, Uvex, and Zeal, where Recon provide their HUD tech and the goggle manufacturers make compatible eyewear) Recon is manufacturing the Jet glasses under its own label.
The company says the proprietary frame will be made of the same material as other high-end glasses, while the quality of the polarized polycarbonate lenses – interchangeable and offered in various tints – will be "on par with anything you find on the market".
Early adopter discount
Not surprisingly, the Recon Jet glasses will be very expensive. Recon will offer them for US$499 but only via an early adopter pilot program running until the end of the Tour de France, with shipments beginning in December.
This first batch will be fully equipped in terms of hardware, but preloaded with a somewhat limited set of functions to start. Free firmware updates will supposedly bring early samples up to spec with later production units.
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The upside is that early adopters will save US$100 over the full retail price of US$599, and also get their Jets "significantly earlier" than other customers.
Interested? You can find out more – and sign up for the pilot program – at the Recon website or by watching the video below:
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Video: Recon Jet glasses
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