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[January 12, 2014]
Tech Monthly: Playtime: The future of skiing writ large: Susan Greenwood tests the goggles that can beam the piste into your vision and record your every move
(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The future of skiing is here, and if you can afford it you can wear it on your face. This season sees the launch of Oakley's second-generation Airwave 1.5 goggles with a built-in heads-up display beaming - via GPS, Bluetooth, accelerometer and gyro sensors - essential mountain stats directly into your vision while you ski. You can record and view your route, jump stats, speed, altitude et al, while in motion, before smearing it all over Facebook. If you don't want your mates to know what your exact location was and how scared you were, you may want to save your pounds 520 to buy some ski lessons.
Oakley may be renowned for the quality of its lenses, but it is not unique in housing the Recon Snow2 technology in its goggles. Smith Optics and Zeal have models on the market too. Recon Instruments also have a similar device called Jet aimed at road cyclists. But it's a tough sell in the winter sports industry, not least because of the weight of the goggle and the price tag. It's an exciting concept: a small screen on the right-hand side of the lens projects data while you ski and you use the Bluetooth attachment to control what is displayed - speed, location, altitude and, via the link with your smartphone, changing your playlist or seeing incoming calls.
Mountain purists could claim the joy of a fresh powder day for it's own sake is more important than recording the details so you can brag later, while anyone who has ever had their smartphone run out of battery while trying to pinpoint which chairlift their friends are on will know the frustration of depending too much on technology in the snow. And other smartphone apps such as Ski Tracks offer many of the same details Oakley is pushing with the Airwave 1.5, so why bother? "Everyone is contactable 90% of the time, whether it's via phone, text, email or social media," said an Oakley spokesman. "The Airwave 1.5 ensures this level of contact continues on the mountain, plus it takes this to the next level with Buddy Tracking, allowing the user to trace friends using GPS." In this newer version of the Airwave - the original was soft launched in 2012 to test consumer reaction - battery life has been increased to around six hours, lenses are interchangeable using Oakley's Switchlock system, and peripheral vision is pretty good, though definitely not as wide as some goggles such as Von Zipper's Fishbowl. If your eyesight is sketchy, the chances of being able to keep track of how fast you're going while hanging on to some semblance of spatial awareness are low. Yet they are surprisingly comfortable, with Plutonite lenses removing UVA and UVB rays. Whether they also remove the joy of skiing in a stunning environment remains to be seen.
Captions: Susan Greenwood tests the Airwave 1.5's heads-up display (inset): 'If you don't want your mates to know how scared you were, you may want to save your pounds 520 for lessons.' Photo: Joe Jukes for the Observer (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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