Google is working on a new wearable technology effort known as Project Aura and is hiring consumer electronics experts from Amazon's secretive Lab126 to jump-start the new group.
Project Aura appears to have gotten started in June and is focused on reviving Google's troubled Glass computer eyeglasses, as well as accelerating Google's efforts to develop related wearable technology.
Project Aura will remain within Google rather than being a standalone company under the new Alphabet holding company or being folded into the Nest smart appliances business, a source familiar with the matter told Business Insider.
Nest CEO Tony Fadell will continue to have high-level oversight of the project, though it's unclear what will happen after Nest becomes a separate Alphabet company, the source said. Ivy Ross, a fashion industry veteran that Google hired to lead the Glass team in 2014, is heading up the Aura group.
Google has hired at least three employees from Lab126, Amazon's hardware division, to work in the new group and Aura has a dedicated recruiter tasked with bringing in more talent.
Several LinkedIn profiles and job listings viewed by Business Insider describe Project Aura as "Google Glass and Beyond."
Project Aura is not be be confused with Project Ara, Google's modular phone concept.
The new Aura group provides a much-needed re-branding to the tattered Glass image as well as opening the door to a broader scope of wearable technology initiatives to help Google compete against rivals such as Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.
By remaining within Google, the Aura group will be able to collaborate more closely with other advanced technology efforts such as Soli, which allows consumers to control gadgets through gestures such as rubbing fingers together, and Cardboard, which turns ordinary smartphones into virtual-reality devices using a cardboard headset.
While virtual-reality technology is an growing area of focus within the technology industry, particularly as Facebook preps the release of its Oculus VR headset, the source said it's still too soon to know whether the Aura group will be focused specifically on VR.
Although Business Insider first spotted Google job postings that indicated that the company planned to release other products in the Google Glass division besides just smart eyewear back in May, the existence of the Project Aura group and its new hires has not been reported until now.
Google stopped selling the initial $1,500 version of Glass to consumers earlier this year following waning interest and criticism that the device was too expensive and clunky, without enough practical-use cases. The head-mounted device, which allowed users to record video, also raised privacy concerns and caused a consumer backlash.
Google continues to sell Glass to businesses for use in the workplace and is reportedly working on a new enterprise version of the device.
Google Glass History-Making Unveiling
Google co-founder Sergey Brin officially unveiled Google Glass at the Google I/O 2012 Developer's Conference held at Moscone Center in San Francisco. It was one of the most exciting, buzz-filled new product unveilings that I have ever witnessed. If you didn't catch the Google Glass unveiling here's the Google Developer's video.
Incidentally, both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak shotdown the idea for wearable VR glasses. Jeff Soto – an ex-Apple employee and founder of TENDIGI – a mobile development firm, writing on his personal blog – I am not Robot narrates an interesting story, which explains the reason Jobs shotdown wearable glasses like Google Glass.
"As soon as I saw the video for Google’s Project Glass I instantly recalled a funny story from my time at Apple. I was once at a Town Hall meeting in Cupertino where Steve Jobs commented on this type of wearable computing. An Apple employee in the audience asked Steve a question to the extent of: 'How can we reach out to our leadership if we have a really good idea'. Steve immediately put him on the spot and made him pitch the idea in front of everyone there. An opportunity to pitch Steve Jobs. What? The employee proceeded to pitch an idea about glasses you can wear that display various types of information. A heads up display a’la terminator cyborg vision if you will. He continued to explain how he wished he had a way to see projected information while he perhaps went for a run outside. Keep in mind this is happening in a room filled with a lot of people. Steve immediately shot his idea down and told the guy that he would probably trip and fall if that were the case. Steve also suggested he should get a girlfriend so he has someone to keep him company while running. I can not watch this Project Glass video without recalling this moment. So if you’re wondering what Steve would think about Project Glass, that’s pretty much it."
Google Glass Sales Suspended
The original Google Glass cost $1,500, and was only available to conference attendees. An estimated 2,000 people placed pre-orders.
Almost a year later, despite outstanding pre-orders, Google expanded the project. A competition was set up where the public were invited to explain what they'd do with Glass. They had to use the hashtag #ifihadglass.
In May 2014, Google started selling its new Glass Explorer for $1,500 through Google Play store to anyone who wanted it after months of exclusive, invite-only availability.
Google hasn’t disclosed sales of Google Glass, but Statista estimated that more than 831,000 units were sold in 2014. (NOTE: I find this number difficult to believe)
In January 16, 2015, Google suddenly suspended sales of Google Glass Explorer, its most hyped new product offering to come along in a long time. Sales were suspended not because Google Glass failed commercially, but because of the controversey Googe's "smart glasses" raised. The following infographic lists several issues that many people raised about Google Glass.
Click Image To Enlarge
Ori Inbar, the chief executive of the non-profit AugmentedReality.org, said it couldn’t be “farther from the truth” to call Google Glass dead, or a failure. He says Google has sold more hardware in the smart glass category than anyone else so far, which has helped to raise public awareness and create inroads for competition. Inbar said.
“Google elevated public awareness to smart glasses to an unprecedented level.”
Google's suspension of Google Glass gives competitors like archrival Epson, which was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January 2015 full force showcasing its eyewear enterprise apps, the opportunity to grow their own installed base in its wake.
The popularization of smart glasses in the workplace has created inroads for other tech heavyweights to launch their own augmented reality glasses, attachments and goggles as well. Sony and Microsoft both stepped into the breach in January 2015, Sony with its SmartEyeglass Attach prototype that would clip into an existing pair of glasses, and Microsoft with HoloLens, a headware that implants holographs into the physical places, spaces and things of a wearer’s actual reality.
Dima Svetlov, whose LinkedIn profile says he worked on Amazon's TV streaming stick, joined Aura as a software development manager in May. Amir Frenke joined in June as a director of software development. Tina Chen left Lab126 in August after working on its TV streaming box and smart-home assistant, Echo, and now works as Aura's manager of technical program management.
Lab126, which makes consumer devices like Amazon's Kindle e-readers, TV streaming products, and the ill-received Fire smartphone, reportedly laid off dozens of engineers who had worked on the phone earlier this summer.
Svetlov, Frenke, and Chen, whose LinkedIn profiles don't reveal any details about Project Aura besides the description that it works on Glass "and beyond," are joining Apple veteran Max Ratner, who worked on the iPhone.
The project even has its own designated recruiter, Jessica Bailow, who has been focused on Aura since June, according to her LinkedIn profile. And Google recently posted several job openings for the Aura team, including a program manager for category development, an industrial designer and a UX designer.
Business Insider also recently reported that Adrian Wong, the former Google Glass lead electrical engineer, who had defected to Facebook-owned virtual-reality startup Oculus, quietly rejoined Google in June. His LinkedIn profile describes his new job only as "building blocks" for Alphabet/Google.
But the added description that "G is for Gadgets, Glasses, and Goggles" suggests that he may be working on Project Aura as well.
Google declined to comment.
Courtesy of an article dated September 16, 2015 appearing in Business Insider, an article dated April 12, 2012 appearing in iPhoneHacks.com, an article dated January 30, 2015 appearing in MarketWatch, and an article dated September 5, 2014 appearing in The Verge