The Carl Zeiss technology beams light perpendicular to the eye from right to left inside a special curved lens built directly into the glasses' lens, then immediately reflects it into the eye using something called a fresnel lens, which is a flat lens that's made up of concentric circles.
The fresnel lens concept was developed by the French nearly 200 years ago for use in lighthouses. You may have seen them in bookstores, which used to sell flat magnifying lenses using the fresnel concept.
While the Carl Zeiss technology probably won't offer the same brightness and clarity as Google Glass, it might be better overall. It's possible that the Carl Zeiss solution will be safer for heavy use and may prevent an affliction I call "Glass Eye," where your right eye becomes sore from such a bright light being beamed into it.
The technology involves injection-molded polycarbonate, which can be mass-produced and integrated into prescription glasses. Interestingly, the smart glass part of the Carl Zeiss lens must be customized for the wearer's prescription along with the convention lens part.
This is where I believe most consumers will get smart glasses. It will be an option at the optometrist's office or glasses retailer.
Choosing smart versions of your prescription glasses will probably cost a few hundred dollars extra, and medical insurance probably won't cover it. But by choosing that option, you'll get future Google Glass-like functionality without social awkwardness.
Why Google and Carl Zeiss should partner on glasses
Carl Zeiss is a lens maker, not a platform company. It doesn't care about the platform.
Google, on the other hand, is a smart-glasses platform company (among other things) and although it has patented technology for the Google Glass prism system, it doesn't really care about hardware.
While press accounts suggest that the Carl Zeiss technology is associated with some unknown competitor to Google Glass, there's absolutely no reason to leap to this conclusion.
Carl Zeiss says it is talking with other companies about using the smart glasses lens technology, and it's very likely that one of these companies is Italian eyeglass giant Luxottica, which is the behemoth behind popular brands like Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Ray-Ban, Persol, Oakley and glasses.com.
Meanwhile, Google is definitely working with Luxottica on Google Glass. In December, Google filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for an enterprise version of Google Glass. (Note that the enterprise market for smart glasses is expected to grow sixfold this year, according to APX Labs.)
What Google Glass brings to Luxottica is an awesome platform in the form of the cloud-based infrastructure, the data and the operating system, as well as industry-leading artificial intelligence, voice-recognition and all the rest.
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