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Google Glass

By , 9 Oct 2012, last updated 17 Oct 2013

Project Glass is a project by Google to create a working design for augmented reality glasses. The idea is that the glasses would include a head-mounted display showing information about the real world.

Update (18th Apr 2013): The first consumer-ready beta version of Google Glass, called Glass Explorer, is now available to a small number of selected Guinea pigs consumers. Glass Explorer costs $1500 and includes a pair of glasses, detachable clear and shaded lenses and a microUSB charger.

Google Glasses

The functionality of the so-called Google Glasses is similar in some ways to a smartphone, and the device would run the Android operating system. The glasses can also be connected to a smartphone using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

The design of the glasses is pretty cool, in a nerdy kind of way, as you can see from these photos of the prototype. The design is slim and minimalistic, and you could imagine that these could become a real fashion accessory. It might also be possible to fit the heads-up display onto normal glasses or sunglasses, or to fit prescription lenses into the Google Glasses. A version using contact lenses is also being explored.

Google Glasses

Augmented reality

The concept of augmented reality is that the wearer sees both the real world and also the computer-generated display. This is sometimes called mixed reality. Instead of normal glass, the augmented reality glasses use a transparent LCD display to show information to the wearer. The glasses could be used to display data relevant to what the wearer sees (determined by a camera), or relevant to the geographical location (determined by the glasses or a tethered smartphone).

Suggestions for uses include showing a location map; using face recognition software to identify people you meet and display their name, job title, etc; or to display information about nearby landmarks and places of interest. Of course, it could also be used like a smartphone, showing incoming messages, facebook updates and so on. Combined with a microphone and Bluetooth headset, the glasses could even replace a smartphone or work in combination with one.

In addition, a built-in camera enables the glasses to film what the wearer sees. Imagine a world in which everything you see can be recorded and stored for later reference. That's either very useful or very creepy. Or both.

The glasses support handsfree operation via voice commands or using a small touchpad on the right arm of the glasses. Tilting your head also offers some control over the glasses.

Disorientating

Experience with early prototype glasses such as the Eye Tap leaves some wearers feeling nauseous or disorientated. This is presumably a side effect that can be reduced through improved design.

I'd also like to see some miniaturisation of the glasses before they become widely adopted. It's nice to see people's faces after all.

Still, despite the formidable range of technological hurdles and ethical questions, Google seems determined to get this technology into production. A launch date of 2014 is being talked about.

At the same time, Oakley are said to be working on a rival product. If either company manages to pull it off and launch a practical product at an affordable price, this looks like it could be a world-changing technology.

Update (17 October 2013): The continued delay in Google Glass coming to market means that many rival companies are stepping into this space. Chec out this article on Google Glass competitors.

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