How Might Google’s “Smart Glasses” Work?

Yesterday I shared some examples from science fiction that are similar to the “augmented reality” concept that Google is attempting to achieve with its Project Glass.  But how might this idea function in the world as we know it today?  Is it plausible?

The concept is sound.  Phone companies are already trying to achieve visual augmentation using current technology – the phone in your pocket.  The ideal is that you can filter your surroundings through your phone and virtual tidbits will appear on your phone’s screen, like GPS directions, restaurant reviews, or even the profiles of people walking past you on the street. The road block with using your phone is that it can be rather inconvenient to walk around town with the block raised in your hand like someone shooting a neverending cell phone video.  That’s just asking for trouble.  Not to mention that if you want to interact with what is being displayed on the phone, you have to hold it steady so the target remains in the display.

So the first advantage to “Google glasses” would have to be hardware setup.  Project Glass is the essential hands-free phone: most commands would be voice activated as illustrated in their concept video.  However, an awful lot of what we do on our phones right now requires gestures and taps – because although the operating systems for most phones have radically evolved, their common origin was the point-and-click computer interface.  It is going to take some big thinking in order to convert commands that have generally relied on touch (like zoom, scroll, etc.) into a system that can be controlled by a user wearing only glasses.  Some sources have said that Google is considering head gestures to control the interface of the glasses…which strikes me as a bad idea in practice.  You’re already wearing these goggles on your face, now you have to twitch like someone with a seizure disorder just to get them to function.  Voice commands seem at least a little more sane, though you’ll probably get the same reaction from strangers on the street as when you’re talking to a Bluetooth set.

One option that I haven’t really seen floating around yet is a phone-to-glasses link.  It depends on exactly where Google wants to go with its technology.  If they’re suggesting that the glasses should replace the smartphone I think they’re in for an uphill battle.  Smartphones are everywhere and many people might not take too kindly to buying a technology that is a duplicate of their pricey and contractual handheld device.  Not to mention that if Google is trying to put everything your smartphone has into a pair of glasses, they’ll have to be pretty darn bulky and a far cry from the slim little things that the models are wearing in the photos.  But, if the glasses are an additional piece of hardware that interact with your current smartphone, Google might have something.  If the phone and the glasses can be used as part of the same system, users wouldn’t have to rely on one or the other – similar to the way many people are getting both a smartphone and a tablet.  Perhaps eventually Google will be able to develop glasses that function independently from that jumping-off point.

Of course, either way the idea of “smart glasses” suggests a technology that won’t fit in the chic little package Google developed for a concept model.  It’s likely that they’re going to be bulkier and dorkier in real life.  And hopefully they won’t heat up with extended use the way your phone and tablet do – it’s painful enough to operate overwarm computers with your fingers; I can’t imagine what that would feel like ON YOUR FACE.  But, realistically, we shouldn’t be expecting something like these:

We should be expecting something more like these:

Those are all 3D television glasses available for purchase today.  The LG ones might be passable as chunky sunglasses, but yeesh.  The others leave something to be desired (namely, style).  And these are glasses designed to do only one thing – 3D simulation.  Now mentally tack an iPhone onto that.  I’m nearsighted, so I’ve had experience with glasses, and the heavier the glasses, the harder they are to wear for extended periods of time.  There’s a reason I prefer contacts on a day-to-day basis.

However, I do have faith in the marketing powers of technology companies (particularly if Apple manages to get their hands on something like this).  The recent revival of 3D at least suggests that audiences are willing to wear dorky glasses to consume media in a darkened movie theater.  Sure, there’s a couple of leaps between that and walking down the sidewalk to work, but the seed is there.  I mean, if the movie business was able to make people do this:

 …then I think Google has a shot at the whole “smart glasses” idea.

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