Google Augmented Reality Glasses Are Being Tested

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The long-rumored Google project, the Project Glass augmented reality glasses were unveiled today by Google on a new Google+ page. The project is specifically from Google X, the company's "secret lab" focused on long-term projects. These early videos and images show an augmented reality concept that's deeply integrated with all of Google's services, with voice commands, video chat, location check-ins, maps (outside and in-store), and much more. The New York Times's Nick Bilton writes that the prototype glasses that Google showed off look like a "pair of wrap-around glasses with a clear display that sits above the eye."

With the glasses set on the bridge of your nose via small pads, a clean Google UI is then integrated directly over your vision. Bilton says there are "dozens" of models, including variations that can "sit over a person's normal eyeglasses."

The wrap-around glasses are early prototypes, and the Google+ page notes that these are possible designs that show what the interface and design could look like, and the video demonstrates "what it might enable you to do." The detailed demo video shows off a first-person view of an augmented day in the life of a New Yorker moving through the East Village, ending with a rooftop sunset video chat. Overlaid on the narrator's vision are weather stats, text messages, map directions, subway alerts, calendar reminders, and — of course — Google+ integration. The design elements seen in the video take some of the UI ideas seen in the company's recent ecosystem-wide redesigns.

The glasses may have moved past the concept phase, though. The Verge's Thomas Huston spoke to Bilton, someone who has used the glasses said, "They let technology get out of your way. If I want to take a picture I don’t have to reach into my pocket and take out my phone; I just press a button at the top of the glasses and that’s it." In late February, Bilton reported that "Google employees familiar with the project" confirmed the glasses would be available to the public for around $250 to $600 dollars by the end of 2012. However at Wired, Steven Levy says that Project Glass "is very far from public beta," and that an end of year product launch is "extremely unlikely."

Google states:

We believe technology should work for you — to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don't.
A team within our Google[x] group started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment.
Follow along with us at as we share some of our ideas and stories. We'd love to hear yours, too. What would you like to see from Project Glass?

Glass is the second big project out of Google (x), the company’s Mountain View skunkworks devoted to long-term projects. Since Larry Page reassumed the role of CEO, his fellow co-founder Sergey Brin has focused on Google (x) and Glass is apparently the project Brin promised news of almost a year ago at Google’s I/O conclave. Glass has been in the works for years, with key input from Babak Amir Parviz, a Google (x) employee who is still listed as the McMorrow Innovation Associate Professor at the University of Washington.
Parviz is one of three co-signers of the Google+ post announcing the project. His research specialties make him sound like a character in a Michael Crichton novel: Bio-nanotechnology, Self-Assembly, Nanofabrication, MEMS. Before coming to Google he co-authored a paper entitled, “Self-assembled crystalline semiconductor optoelectronics on glass and plastic.” All of this indicates that Google has made some advances in science behind projecting computer visuals that hang in your field of vision.

The second author on the Google+ post is Steve Lee, known previously as a Google location manager.  I once saw Lee in action before Google’s Privacy Council, successfully defending a set of features in Google Latitude that, with the user’s permission, registered and stored a complete history of one’s peregrinations. It was clear that Lee was excited about the possibilities that come from exploiting location services in new ways. Obviously, location — giving directions, providing information about nearby services, and pegging the whereabouts of friends — is going to be a big part of this new initiative.
The third is Sebastian Thrun, he of the autonomous driving vehicles, open online education and a leader at Google[x].
The project seems serious and may represent a new paradigm for mobile telecommunications.  It will be interesting to see if Apple, Microsoft or others announce developments of their own.  

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