WHAT IS (er, was) IT? A current project from Google for an augmented reality head-mounted display or head-up display (“HMD” or “HUD”). This “wearable computing” could take the form of eyeglasses or an attachment to existing glasses or even contact lenses; see photo at right). [It actually started out as an experiment using a scuba mask and a laptop.] It enables the user to see, hands-free on a small screen, the type of information one would normally view on a smartphone (which makes sense, since it uses the Android O/S using the MyGlass app). Users can get map directions, take pictures or video, text, make phone calls or do anything else they would ordinarily use their smart phones to do. In addition, through a built-in microphone, it allows users to communicate with it using natural language voice commands.
[Why “glass” instead of “glasses”? Google X Labs predicts its public availability in 2015. At least one version has been compared to inventor Steve Mann’s Eye Tap, created in 1981 and refined continually thereafter, which was also referred to as “Glass” (“EyeTap Digital Eye Glass”) according to Wikipedia. Mann’s EyeTap is a rather clumsy and complicated device compared to Glass worn in front of the eye that captures what the eye sees, then superimposes computerized information on top of that image through the use of a “beam splitter”. But remember that this invention, just like the military HMD and HUD, was way before the ubiquitous presence of the Internet.]
THE POSITIVES: The streaming images on Glass can be used for simultaneously linking the real world to the virtual without the distraction of pulling out a phone or pad, and will also eliminate some (but not all) typing of commands. Processes which previously required the download of PDF manuals onto DVDs, laptops or pads or viewing of Internet web pages or videos on a computer device can now be viewed at the same time as the real world, making training, repairs and analysis faster and more accurate. How? Take locksmiths, auto repairmen, copier repairmen, even on-site computer repair techs and surgeons, to name just a few types of workers. No longer would it be necessary to locate and download parts of repair manuals or diagrams and put them on disks or drives for service calls. That information would be available and could be seen on-line as step-by-step information just as the technician is viewing and making the repairs to the actual equipment right in front of them. Training programs such as driving a car, flying a plane or operating manufacturing machinery, for example, would be simplified because not only could Glass display video of a virtual world built right into the world world, but interactive feedback on the trainee’s progress could be input, as well as increasing the skill levels as the trainee’s skills improve. Some professions, doctors for example, could quickly access medical records (EMRs), X-Rays and other patient data in the emergency room, crash site (see telemedicine) or offices while examining the patient, greatly increasing the speed and accuracy of treatment and positive results. Even executives in meetings could access and share on each of their Glass’ information instantaneously retrieved which might be relevant to the discussion. You get the picture - there are real world applications for this device, applications which those with money (enterprises) would be happy to pay for. In North Carolina, a fire fighter has already developed an app that feeds important information directly to the eye-line of firefighters in an emergency. As the price comes down after these early adopters, and of course the technogeeks, the rest of us will surely get one as well.
NEGATIVE BACKLASH: But there is always the disparity between the utopian and the distopian visions of this type of invention. Will it be just another excuse to continue the “depersonalization” of communication, migrating from the telephone to the computer to the smart phone to the iPad to the Glass? Families not to talk to each other around the dinner table without one eye on the Glass instead of their smart phone? Another way for Google to strip mine even more of your personal data without your knowledge? Another possibility that long term use may give us ADHD, eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome and brain tumors? Another excuse for distracted driving? Privacy concerns of bystanders who may not have a say in being recorded or the subject of facial recognition (which Google claims it will not offer “at this time”. Giving stalkers, harassers and other deviants the ability to furtively spy on unsuspecting citizens, particularly women. Or vehicles for viewing, even creating porn? Perhaps. Note that many bars, casinos and strip clubs are already preemptively banning these devices. See LAWS, for The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights (under Privacy).
As use of the Glasses has increased, adverse reactions have also ramped up. Detractors call wearers “Glass Holes” and have banned their use in restaurants, art galleries, theaters, courtrooms and other public places. A group calling itself “Stop the Cyborgs” offers the anti-glass icons shown below so that they can be posted in storefronts, art galleries and other businesses, notifying customers that the technology isn’t allowed there. They’re even urging local, state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation banning Glass use in public and private places. Mindful of the backlash, in February, 2014, Google published an etiquette guide for users of its Glass. Also, a response debunking the top 10 myths about the product, i.e. that it doesn’t do facial recognition, isn’t banned everywhere, is far less useful for surveillance than cameras, etc.
Glass wearers don’t see how the use of the devices are much different than those smart phone users who incessantly snap photos with their phones and upload them to Facebook or Instagram for all to see and they’re right in many respects. They point out that after the first consumer-focused Kodak cameras came out, some beaches banned them and that with smartphones, some were concerned about the gym and bathrooms, but nobody gives either a thought now. But it’s more difficult to determine whether Glass is recording, as it doesn’t have a light or have to be specifically aimed to upload information. But to record constantly, the device wouldn’t make it an hour without recharging. Also, Google Glass users legally have the same rights as any other photographers in public places: Generally, you can photograph anything in plain view, people or objects, in public places. Still shots and video are included. It is unclear whether audio is included, as it might violate some state wiretap laws. Photography on private property, on the other hand, can be restricted or prohibited by the owner. But why some business allow cell phone photos to be posted on Instagram but prohibit Glass can be baffling, and may lead to legal disputes resulting from this discrimination.
A more serious concern should be the extent and manner in which the data collected from Glass users is sorted and used by Google, other companies and the Government). I’d worry more about that, especially with recent news about Big Data collection and revelations about Government snooping revealed via Prism and other programs.
Even though there were only 8,000 sets of Google Glass available as of October, 2013, they have already been banned in many offices, bars, strip clubs, prisons and other places. And casinos, of course. Movie theaters, where Glass users could use the device to receive closed captioning, don’t like Glass because they think that viewers might be surreptitiously recording the movies for resale. And police have been giving traffic tickets under “distracted driving” laws such as those in California. For example, Cecilia Abadie, one of the 30,000 people initially selected to try Glass before it was offered to the general public, was ticketed for speeding (80mph in a 60mph zone) and wearing the Glass spectacles (which were not turned on) on October 30, 2013, and pleaded not guilty to a California law barring motorists from watching TV while driving. The case was dismissed because the judge found that the device was not turned on, as it was illegal to wear the device if it is turned on while it is operational. There’s some issue here: A Google app called Safe Driving that wakes up drivers (even some police officers) if it detects that they may be falling asleep. It’ll be hard to do this is it’s got to be turned off. Also, since journalists wear the device, it’s no surprise that when Miami Herald journalist Carol Rosenberg was wearing it during her visit to Guantanamo’s Expeditionary Legal Complex and transmitted video of parts of the war court area, some of her footage was examined and deleted by authorities and after that signs were erected specifically banning the Google Glasses.
UPDATE: In January, 2014, Google announced that it will make Glass with prescription lenses (even coupling with insurance provider Vision Service) and is designing sunglasses to be made by Maui Jim. This will make an already expensive device cost hundreds of more dollars more, probably topping $2000.
Glass went on sale for one day so far, April 15, 2014.
THE FUTURE: Why, ultimately, will Google Glass be quickly adopted? Because people want it, just like they wanted cell phones, then smart phones, then pads! The other proof is that other companies are already creating their own versions of Glass. Google isn’t alone developing this device: A Japanese company, Telepathy, is developing its own HMD and it’s quite stylish. So, too, Meta has unveiled Meta Pro, for $3,000, which includes a display with ultra-thin see-through optics, a 40 degree field of vision, 720p HD and (with two) display stereoscopic 3D. And Sony has unveiled its SmartEyeglass prototype as well. Certainly others will follow if Glass is successful. See also, Google Android Wear, it’s expansion of the Glass operating system to include Smart Watches and other devices.
And then, poof! it was gone!! On January 15, 2015 Google announced that Glass, as we know it, is discontinued. Not sure why. That’s it. Google’s X Labs are becoming something else, so apparently Glass will disappear with it. Who would have figured?
UPDATE: On November, 10, 2016, Snapchat started testing “Spectacles” in California and Oklahoma, available at special “SnapBot” vending machines, later in more locations. The glasses can create video when worn by viewers and paired with their phones. This is a test, so we’ll see if Snapchat makes this a permanent item.
See also Brainwriter. And MindRDR, software being developed bya London firm named This Place which, when coupled with the Neurosky MindWave Mobile EEG biosensor that can detect a person’s brainwaves, will allow Glass to control their devices just by thinking. Tests show that Glass, equipped with an EEG that rests on your forehead, will allow you to take a photo, post it to FaceBook, add and subtract, etc.