People who constantly reach into a pocket to check a smartphone for bits of information will soon have another option: a pair of Google-made glasses that will be able to stream information to the wearer’s eyeballs in real time.
According to several Google employees familiar with the project who asked not to be named, the glasses will go on sale to the public by the end of the year. These people said they are expected “to cost around the price of current smartphones,” or $250 to $600.
The people familiar with the Google glasses said they would be Android-based, and will include a small screen that will sit a few inches from someone’s eye. They will also have a 3G or 4G data connection and a number of sensors including motion and GPS.
A Google spokesman declined to comment on the project.
Seth Weintraub, a blogger for 9 to 5 Google, who first wrote about the glasses project in December, and then discovered more information about them this month, also said the glasses would be Android-based and cited a source that described their look as that of a pair of Oakley Thumps.
They will also have a unique navigation system. Mr. Weintraub wrote this month.
“The navigation system currently used is a head tilting to scroll and click. We are told it is very quick to learn and once the user is adept at navigation, it becomes second nature and almost indistinguishable to outside users.”
The glasses will have a low-resolution built-in camera that will be able to monitor the world in real time and overlay information about locations, surrounding buildings and friends who might be nearby, according to the Google employees. The glasses are not designed to be worn constantly — although Google expects some of the nerdiest users will wear them a lot — but will be more like smartphones, used when needed.
Internally, the Google X team has been actively discussing the privacy implications of the glasses and the company wants to ensure that people know if they are being recorded by someone wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera.
The project is currently being built in the Google X offices, a secretive laboratory near Google’s main campus that is charged with working on robots, space elevators and dozens of other futuristic projects.
One of the key people involved with the glasses is Steve Lee, a Google engineer and creator of the Google mapping software, Latitude. As a result of Mr. Lee’s involvement, location information will be paramount in the first version released to the public, several people who have seen the glasses said. The other key leader on the glasses project is Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, who is currently spending most of his time in the Google X labs.
One Google employee said the glasses would tap into a number of Google software products that are currently available and in use today, but will display the information in an augmented reality view, rather than as a Web browser page like those that people see on smartphones.
The glasses will send data to the cloud and then use things like Google Latitude to share location, Google Goggles to search images and figure out what is being looked at, and Google Maps to show other things nearby, the Google employee said. They said.
“You will be able to check in to locations with your friends through the glasses.”
Everyone I spoke with who was familiar with the project repeatedly said that Google was not thinking about potential business models with the new glasses. Instead, they said, Google sees the project as an experiment that anyone will be able to join. If consumers take to the glasses when they are released later this year, then Google will explore possible revenue streams.
As I noted in a Disruptions column last year, Apple engineers are also exploring wearable computing, but the company is taking a different route, focusing on computers that strap around someone’s wrist.
Last week The San Jose Mercury News discovered plans by Google to build a $120 million electronics testing facility that will be involved in testing “precision optical technology.”
COMMENTARY: In a blog post dated February 8, 2012, I commented on the article by Seth Weintraub of 9to5Google.com, that revealed Google's development of "Terminator" style, Android-based head-up-display (HUD) glasses. That was just a rumor, but it now appears that Google is rapidly moving towards launching their new HUD glasses by year-end.
I hate to say it, but these augmented reality HUD glasses are going to be very controversial and create many privacy concerns and liability issues. Information about you is now readily available on the internet, especially from social networks, and Google will be able to tap into that information to display your name and possibly your contact information, and anything else you may have posted online.
In an article February 22, 2012 by Thomas Claburn appearing in InformationWeek, there were 7 potential problems Google may encounter with their new augmented reality HUD glasses:
"Here are a few potential pitfalls:
"Privacy - The outcry over people beaming images back to Google's data centers will be deafening, far worse than complaints about Google's monitoring of Web browsing habits. Google engineers are said to be actively discussing the privacy implications of the glasses. But the company's history of repeated privacy blunders suggests controversy is inevitable."
"Google has the technology to enable facial recognition with its Google Goggles app, but has avoided doing so for fear of privacy problems. And that's the real shame here, because augmented reality glasses should be able to do things like present the name of the person you're looking at. That kind of technology will be available eventually, at least to police departments. But as a society, we're not ready for it."
"Redundancy - Augmented reality is cool. But putting the technology into a pair of glasses isn't strictly necessary. Everything your Google glasses might be able to do, your Android phone will do better, particularly given the assumption that the glasses will be intended for periodic rather than constant use."
"Cost - For several hundred dollars, you'll get what? Services already available on your smartphone. Augmented reality makes a lot of sense if you're, say, a NASA astronaut who needs to see Space Shuttle schematics in your visor while you're on a space walk to make repairs. Augmented reality makes less sense for consumers. A more cost-effective solution might be a smartphone scaffold for mounting your phone on your baseball cap."
"Health - There's already enough FUD about mobile phones and brain cancer. But even the most scientifically-minded are likely to balk if Google's glasses rely on anything more powerful than Bluetooth to transmit and receive data. And that's to say nothing of the potential health effects of visual distraction and impairment. No one wants their last thought to be, 'Hey, Google Maps says I'm walking across Highway 101...'"
"Liability - And if there are health risks, there will be liability problems. People will wear Google's glasses while driving, despite explicit warnings not to do so. They will collide with elderly pedestrians and someone will get hurt. Someone will end up going cross-eyed. There will be lawsuits. And some politician will hold a hearing. Add the cost of an insurance policy to your Google Glasses bill."
"Battery Life - Battery life continues to hinder the utility of smartphones, tablets, and notebook computers. And in these devices, you can generally feel the weight of the battery. Glasses need to be light to be comfortable, so the battery will necessarily be small. As a consequence, the glasses are unlikely to be useful for very long, unless they require a separate tethered battery ... and that would ruin the experience. The ideal augmented reality glasses will be able to run perpetually on sunlight. We're probably several decades away from that kind of photovoltaic and processor efficiency."
"Control - Head-tiling will not be enough if the glasses are to offer services beyond navigation. The glasses will either have to convert hand gestures to commands or accept voice commands. So add a microphone, which adds another layer of privacy problems and engineering requirements."
"The glasses will also have to be extraordinarily responsive--when you turn your head you won't be happy with information related to where you were looking three seconds ago. That will mean either a very fast network connection--something many mobile carriers can't manage consistently--or displaying as little data as possible for the sake of speed and to appease mobile carriers, which already consider you a data hog."
Wow, it looks like Thomas Claburn covered all the possible pitfalls that Google could experience. Notice that privacy was No 1 on his list. I wonder if Google's X-Labs team asked themselves, "What would Steve do?" Better yet, did Google confer with their attorney's about liability and privacy issues and did they conduct field studies and get feedback from consumers?
This is a great time to mention that the Obama administration is working hard to legislate an online "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" bill, and if the proposed bill passes in its present form without Congressional infighting, it could change the entire internet landscape with regard to privacy concerns. Checkout my blog post dated February 23, 2012 about Obama's proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights bill.
I also envision a lot of ads appearing to the HUD whenever you look at a restaurant, movie theater, product whether a book or consumer electronics device, and a message telling you what it is, where you can get it, the price and if there is a deal on that item. So unless you don't mind receiving these invasive ads appearing on your HUD, then its going to open up a whole new world for those individuals willing to forkup $250 to $650 and the software to use these new HUD glasses.
I have always felt that technology would be heading this way, and it looks like it will be happening sooner, rather than later. You can expect Microsoft, Apple and others to introduce similar devices, but they will probably wait to see just how much traction Google is making with their new HUD augmented reality glasses before launching their own.
Courtesy of an article dated February 21, 2012 appearing in The New York Times Bits