Looks like Lance Armstrong might have a new pair of sunglasses for his comeback tour. The blogs lit up in the past few weeks with attention surrounding a pair of Nike sunglasses that increase a rider’s peripheral vision from the standard 180 degrees to up to 240. Given Lance’s pension for wearing yellow, the new specs could come in handy. Only problem is that Nike isn’t actually making the glasses. Confused? We dug into the mystery.

If it looks like a Nike product and has marketing material that looks like a Nike product, then it must be … a student with too much time on his hands and a working knowledge of Photoshop? It ends up that Nike has nothing to do with the seemingly impressive technology. Our contact with Nike confirmed that the company is asking the rogue inventor, Billy May, to remove the swoosh branding from his design. May is a self-proclaimed broke, unemployed recent college graduate from Washington and Lee University with little engineering background, who’s looking for his big break. Hope this helps.

So if Nike isn’t involved, does that mean the glasses won’t work? Not so fast. May has created two prototypes that don’t look as pretty as the mockup but provide a proof of concept. With a lens (possibly a Fresnel lens) with high-power negative focal length on the peripheral portion of the glasses, wearers can cram more into their peripheral vision. The glasses are like “bifocals for their peripheral vision.” The tradeoff is a slight distortion of that peripheral view. An annoyance to a guy on a Sunday stroll, but perhaps an acceptable side effect for those in sports and the military, where identifying motion is more important than any details.

Sound too good to be true? May thought the same, but a prior art search and some old-fashioned digging hasn’t found anything to deter his quest. All he needs now is some big-shot sports manufacturer with a hefty R&D budget to help develop the concept. Or maybe a consumer advocate to push for said financial backing. Lance, you busy?

Like these shades? Check out the top recreation innovations of the year–part of PopSci‘s 2008 Best of What’s New awards.