Get Ready for Google Glasses

April 2012

Actually, I'm not sure that I'm ready for augmented-reality glasses. Here's how they'll work: you look at something, and superimposed on the object is information about it. A painting in a museum, a landmark, an acquaintance whose name you can't remember.

This is called augmented reality. What you see through the transparent glasses is the reality part. What the glasses superimpose is the augmented part. And according to the New York Times, Google Glasses will be available later this year.

Google hasn't officially announced, or acknowledged, this new product, but employees are talkin'. And it's no surprise that they're working on these glasses, since Google has indeed announced that they're going to be coming out with more consumer devices.

Essentially, Google Glasses will be a smartphone that you wear. The glasses will run Android, the same iPhone-like software that runs on many of the most popular phones. They'll have GPS and will connect to the cell phone network for data.

Employees who spilled the beans say that the glasses aren't meant to be worn all the time, though no doubt some people will. And they're expected to be priced in the range of $250–600.

As I discussed in a column last August, augmented reality is already available on smartphones: you point your phone's camera at something and then see a live image on the screen with information overlaying it. It works in two different ways. In most cases, the app uses GPS to identify where you are and know what you're pointing at.

But some apps actually use image recognition in order to identify the object. Some augmented reality apps can, for example, recognize landmarks. Imagine looking at the Eiffel Tower, having your glasses recognize what it is, and then giving you information about it.

The glasses will apparently use both GPS and image recognition. Those in the know say that location will be a major feature of the glasses. The GPS senses where you are and offers you information about your environment, or gives you directions, or points you to the nearest Starbucks and offers a discount.

One of the earliest augmented reality apps for smartphones was Metro Paris Subway. To find the nearest subway station you simply hold up your phone. Superimposed over the live image are little information boxes describing what you're looking at. Pan your iPhone around until you see one identifying the metro station and walk toward it. Along the way the app will identify restaurants and other locations of interest. Point your camera at the ground and you'll see an image of the sidewalk with superimposed arrows pointing the direction you need to go.

The glasses will have a low-resolution camera that will capture what you're seeing. In some applications, that image will be sent back to Google's servers, which will use image-recognition to identify what you're seeing. Imagine meeting someone whose face you recognize but whose name escapes you. A face-recognition feature could identify the person, remind you where and when you met him or her, and remind you what the person's name is.

The glasses will also have audio outputs and inputs. The New York Times didn't say what these would be used for, but no doubt the glasses will be able to be used as a music player, and likely also will work with voice input. No one is yet saying that you'll be able to use them as a phone, but I don't see why not.

So how will you navigate this device? You navigate your smartphone by tapping the screen, but it would be a bit awkward to be tapping the lens of your glasses. Those in the know say that you navigate via tilting your head. The articles don't say, but I could imagine a slight tilt of your head left or right scrolling the content on the screen. And perhaps a slight nod would select the option you want. The reports say that these motions are quickly learned and feel natural, and that they're barely noticeable to observers.

No doubt the glasses will also be able to be used for games and entertainment — basically anything a smartphone can do.

There are privacy issues, of course. Some people don't like the idea that a person wearing special glasses might be making a video of you. Google is reportedly thinking hard about privacy issues and is taking that into account.

So maybe we'll have a new toy by year's end. Just what I need.

This month's hot tips:

Kim Komando tells you how to use the built-in voice recognition on your Mac or PC. Lendle lets you borrow and lend Kindle ebooks. Pinterest is an online pinboard for saving, organizing, and sharing web stuff.

© 2012 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen