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Google X Display Guru Says Wearable Computing Is Unstoppable

Mary Lou Jepsen, who leads the Google X display group, says wearable innovation is moving fast.
October 11, 2013

Mary Lou Jepsen, head of the display division for Google’s notoriously secret hardware innovation lab, Google X–which is building the Google Glass head-worn computer–took the stage at EmTech Thursday to talk about innovation, creativity, and, naturally, wearable computing.

While Jepsen apologized a few times for being unable to divulge what, specifically, she’s working on over at Google (“Sergey insists,” she said apologetically at one point, referring to company cofounder Sergey Brin), she did share a number of thoughts related to her division and the changing face of consumer electronics, among other topics. Below are some of her distilled thoughts.

  • She believes wearable computers are “a way of amplifying you,” saying that for years she felt that a laptop is an extension of her mind. “It’s coming. I don’t think it’s stoppable,” she said of wearable devices like Glass, adding that it makes it much faster to do things like take photos, and “you become addicted to the speed of it, and it lets you do more fast and easily.”
  • Ten years from now, assuming we can’t cure neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, she expects human-computer interfaces (such as the red Google Glass she wore around her neck, presumably) to be able to do things like identify the people around you.
  • She pointed out the importance of varied design in making commercially successful smart watches, similar to the different kinds of clothes we all wear.
  • Despite keeping her mouth shut about what she and her team are building, she indicates they’re working hard, saying they’re “maybe sleeping three hours a night to bring the technology forward,” and that we may see what they’re working on next year.
  • She stressed that industrial design and user experience design are “not the whole product,” when it comes to consumer electronics, and that, if you really think about it, the existence of the laptop was made possible by the creation of the liquid-crystal display, and tablets by further innovations in hardware. “There’s only so much you can do by styling the housing and icons,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of room for diversity and innovation of approach here.”
  • She also stressed the importance of understanding from early on in the product-development cycle about how what you’re making will scale.
  • She says Google’s driverless car, which the company has long been testing on California’s roads, is “safer than a regular driver now,” and that Google has driven more miles with its driverless car than the ground covered by all other driverless cars combined.
  • She noted the importance of innovation at any age. “I don’t think any one of us has an excuse on why we can’t get up and do something really big, really bold,” she said.
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