Google's always been a little bit hesitant to get into the hardware game, preferring instead to stick their software (and occasionally branding) on devices from others. But a new rumor suggests that Google may be working on a prototype for a pair of augmented reality glasses that they'll be marketing directly to the public.
According to 9to5Google (who reportedly has a source who has seen this project firsthand), Google has a late-stage prototype of sunglasses that look a little bit like the Oakley Thumps in the picture above. These glasses have a tiny camera on the front, a flash, and a few buttons, but the distinguishing feature is a very small heads-up display in front of one eye. This display is reportedly able to work in concert with the camera to provide projected augmented-reality information (like Google Goggles), communicating directly with Google servers to do all of the heavy image analysis. Besides buttons, the glasses will also feature voice recognition, and you'll be able to scroll through menus and click on stuff by moving your head.
What we're most curious about, at this point, is how exactly Google is going to cram a near-eye display system into a pair of sunglasses. This is very hard to do, which is why DARPA has been funding Innovega to develop those contact lenses to modify our vision to get it to work. Without this kind of technology, Google is going to be restricted to low-detail displays, even with a fancy transparent OLED or AMOLED screen. Of course, it's entirely possible that Google has come up with something wild on their own, although we should stress that this is all speculation coming from one single source with no independent confirmation of truthiness.
If Google's glasses do turn out to be legit, Google will apparently be releasing them directly to consumers as part of an open beta pilot program to test out the market similarly to the way they introduced the Chromebook. The word is that all of this is going to happen "soon," but don't be surprised if "soon" turns out to be "sometime in the next few years."