A View from David Zax
Google's Terminator Glasses
Nick Bilton at the Times’s Bits Blog, hardly a site for speculation on vaporware, tells us to expect something remarkable from Google by the year’s end: heads-up display glasses “that will be able to stream information to the wearer’s eyeballs in real time.”
That’s right. Google’s going to turn us all into the Terminator. Minus the wanton killing, of course.
The Times post builds on the reporting of Seth Weintraub, who blogs at 9 to 5 Google. He had written about the glasses project in December, as well as this month. Weintraub had one tipster, who told him the glasses would look something like Oakley Thumps. Bilton cites “several Google employees familiar with the project,” who said the devices would cost between $250 and $600. The device is reportedly being built in Google’s “X offices,” a top-secret lab that is nonetheless not-top-secret-enough that you and I and other readers of the Times know about it. (X is favored letter for Google of late, when it comes to blue sky projects.)
A few other details about the glasses, that have emerged from either Bilton or Weintraub: they would be Andoid-based and feature a small screen that sits inches from the eye. They’d have access to a 3G or 4G network, and would have motion and GPS sensors. And, in wild, Terminator style, the glasses would even have a low-res camera “that will be able to monitor the world in real time and overlay information about locations, surrounding buildings and friends who might be nearby,” per Bilton. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is reportedly serving as a leader on the project, along with Steve Lee, who made Latitude, Google’s mapping software.
Though reportedly arriving for sale in 2012, the glasses may never reach a mass market. Google is said to be exploring ways to monetize the glasses should consumers take a liking to them. “If consumers take to the glasses when they are released later this year, then Google will explore possible revenue streams,” writes Bilton.
Google isn’t the first to dabble in the idea of heads-up display glasses. Way back in 2002, in fact, we wrote about how electronics could enable augmented reality glasses for soldiers. Though its ambitions are much more modest–hardly anything to hold a candle to The Terminator–a company called 4iiii Innovations has made some basic heads-up display glasses for athletes wanting to monitor their progress. And two years ago, TR took a pair of $2,000 augmented reality glasses from Vuzix for a spin, declaring them “dazzling”–but still wondering, “who’ll wear them?”
I’ve written before that smartwatches could represent a frontier of smartness-on-your-person. “They stand to transform your wrist into something akin to (if a wee bit short of) a heads-up display,” was how I put it. If the information Bilton and Weintraub have on Google is sound, I may have to dial back my enthusiasm on smartwatches–or at least stop likening them to heads-up displays, once the real thing exists.
Then again, smartwatches may still occupy a middle ground between utility and style. On the one hand, Oakley Thump-style smartglasses would be extraordinarily useful, for some. On the other hand, they would also be–let’s face it–irredeemably geeky. As Bilton writes, “The glasses are not designed to be worn constantly — although Google expects some of the nerdiest users will wear them a lot.”
If you thought your smartwatch-sporting friend was a geek, just wait till he’s flanked by people playing cyborg with Google’s forthcoming technology.