Google Glass brings your smartphone screen in front of your eyes.
courtesy Antonio Zugaldia

Google Glass seeing into the future

Is Google’s Project Glass a vision for the future or just another overhyped gadget?

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Where is the boundary between science fiction and the future? What would the world look like through the Terminator’s eyes? These are just some of many questions that have popped up since Google unveiled Project Glass and their Google Glass device last April.

Project Glass is a research and development program that is developing smart Google glasses, that brings your smartphone screen in front of your eyes in real time without blocking your view of the world around you. These augmented reality head-mounted display glasses mix the visual world with digital information. Demonstrations from Project Glass show the Google Glass device to have normal eyeglass frames without lenses and with a transparent display in the upper right corner. The location-aware feature of these glasses is supported by a built-in camera and GPS. Interacting with and accessing displayed information occurs through a combination of gestures and voice commands.

While Google Glass glasses are not the first of their kind, the massive media attention surrounding this project comes from the glasses’ slimness and smaller size as well as Google’s vision to integrate them into everyday life. After the initial prototype cost, Google plans to have an average consumer cost of around $250 to $600, as reported by the New York Times. With the trend of increased ease and accessibility seen in our current devices, Google Glass appears to be the next revolutionary electronics device.

Google Glass devices, shown in Google’s “One day . . .” promotional video, allow completely hands-free capabilities, including checking the weather forecast, dialing friends, receiving reminders from your calendar and taking pictures or videos.

However, there may be implications to being constantly connected online. A modified version of Google’s “One day . . .” video, “ADmented Reality — Google Glasses Remixed with Google Ads,” offers a skeptical view on how Google might use this technology to bombard us with ads. 

In general, reactions are widely divided about how innovative and useful this technology will be in easing our daily activities.

“It is hard to be innovative ­— everything is already being done it seems,” said Liam Hagel, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student. “I guess it was kind of neat to see [Google] actually pushing for something we have not seen before.”

This view is also shared by Keith Robinson, a PhD student in the faculty of environmental design, who sees the glasses as “an interesting novelty at the moment” and “an exciting development in integrating technology in people’s lives.” 

At the moment, real-time navigation seems to be a practical use for the glasses, said Hagel, especially in condensed areas and while in another country. In addition to navigation, Robinson sees potential application of such technology for note-taking in the classroom.

The positive reception and enthusiasm towards the technology is matched with skepticism. Most concerns aggregate around safety and privacy issues. “Google Glass might record everything you see and do,” wrote James Rivington in his TechRadar article “Project Glass: what you need to know.”

Overcoming distrust of technology is another problem Google faces in marketing to consumers. 

“What if I am walking and I don’t see a car coming because Google flash comes up in front of my eye?” asks Hagel. “That is a huge issue.”

Social acceptance is also a factor. University of Toronto computer engineering professor Steve Mann was allegedly physically assaulted in a Parisian McDonald’s for wearing the experimental EyeTap device. EyeTap is similar to Google Glass in augmenting reality, though more bulky of a design. Associated with Mann’s story is privacy and surveillance issues. Mann was able to record the faces of the alleged perpetrators, so what else was he recording? 

Forbes writer Kashmir Hill notes in her article, “How Google Glasses make a Persistent, Pervasive Surveillance State Inevitable,” surveillance is in the hands of the people, rather than the state, with Google Glass devices. However, she writes, this is no different than our multi-application smartphones.

Rivington continues this sentiment in his TechRadar article: “Google’s business is about making money from advertising, and some people worry that Google Glass is its attempt to monetize your eyeballs.” 

Other than a few public demos, where the glasses were worn by Google co-founder Sergey Brin and some public figures, athletes and models, the glasses have not been released yet. The “Explorer Edition” of the glasses is anticipated to be released for around $1,500 to specific developers. Brin explained that the rest of the public will have to wait longer to get their hands on the final customer edition.

Google likely gave developers access to Google Glass before consumers so that applications could be made in advance, Robinson said. Applications are the main reason we constantly use our mobile devices, and applications on Google Glass would increase likelihood of its success.

“Right now, [the device] sounds like what pretty much your cellphone does with a different display technology,” said Robinson.

Despite Google Glass’s recent recognition by Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2012, the picture of Google Glass remains blurry.