The Google Glass is the most well known early attempt to create a wearable, reality augmenting computer. This product sits at the head of a predicted boom in wearable technology.
The Glass is actually an example of an OHMD, or Optical Head-Mounted Display. This simply means that, unlike a VR HMD which will enclose your vision and block out the real world, this device lets you see reality with an overlay of projected digital information. Yes, just like in the films.
The Google Glass was a product of a special division of Google known as Google X, which is a branch of the Google company aimed at major technological advancement. This same division is responsible for projects such as Google Loon, and for Google’s self-driving cars.
OHMDs are not a Google invention, however; Sony introduced a similar device – the Glasstron – as early as 1997. Chunky optical displays such as these continue to find uses in military and industrial applications, but the Glass represents a new milestone in size and efficiency. Unlike previous OHMDs, the Glass is no more bulky than the average set of correctional lenses, but it still packs a fully independent computer right into its frame.
At the moment, regrettably, there is no consumer edition of the Glass, but an ‘Explorer’ version was sold for $1500 to early adopters who helped test the device out in the wild. That is a hefty sum, but the Glass is packed with some truly cutting edge components and software. This means that it will be a while before we see it drop in price.
Under the Hood
The Glass uses a prism projector situated over one eye to present the user with visual data. In terms of what makes it tick; it contains microphones, an accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope. There’s also an ambient light sensor, a proximity sensor, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, superior bone-conducting sound output, and a touchpad. This is all aside from the dual-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of flash memory. The Glass weighs a teeny tiny 36g (1.27oz). This is a truly incredible feat.
The Google Glass allows you to see messages and navigation instructions, use facial recognition software and photography apps to take pictures, and let you you shoot first-person videos. Wireless capability ensures that it can interact with your smartphone for additional functionality. The Google Glass is open to third-party developers, who have already created some pretty impressive applications. For example, World Lens, which is also available purely on smartphones, translates text in real time to your target language.
Although the Glass has a touchpad, it was primarily designed for already well-developed hands-free vocal interaction, so users can operate it simply by beginning a sentence with ‘OK Glass’, and ending it with a command. You can also take a picture by winking, a fantastic feature available with later devices.
One thing that makes the Glass especially notable is the cultural impact it’s had. Technophiles certainly sit up and take notice of the leaps and bounds being made in modern technology, but the Google Glass was one of a few devices that has captured the imagination of the general public as well.
The Apple iPad is another example of a device like this. After its announcement, the device was written about extensively and began making appearances all over contemporary media, generally worming its way its way into the collective consciousness of the general population.
Similar to this, the Google Glass gripped our imaginations. For those unprepared and out of the technological loop, this must have seemed like an extraordinary leap in terms of technology and wearable hardware. It immediately raised some really valuable and interesting questions about privacy, and some wearers of the Glass reported receiving less than warm welcomes at certain establishments – perhaps due to the tech’s discreet way of saving information. It even gave rise to the new term ‘Glasshole’! It seems that moving smartphone technology from a device you can put down to one you wear right on your face has had a fascinating effect on general perception.
Whether Glass itself becomes the template for wearable computers in the future remains to be seen, but its foray into the world outside of Google’s labs has taught a huge amount both to tech developers and tech lovers.
At the time of writing the public has no way to purchase a Google Glass unit, as the Explorer program has ended. Google is still actively developing the technology, and are said to be focusing on professional application in particular. A separate initiative for enterprise applications known as ‘Glass at Work’ was established for this very purpose.
Although the Glass may have fallen from the public eye for the time being, it is very likely that a successor or a new improved version will eventually make its way to market – especially in the light of the release of the Microsoft Hololens.