A couple weeks ago, Google captured the imaginations of many with a slick promo video for Project Glass, a futuristic pair of Google glasses that put the capabilities of a smartphone directly into your field of vision. Though Google has been very clear about the video being more concept than reality, in terms of what the glasses can actually do at this stage, the glasses are real. Even Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been wearing them out.
The glasses have been both mocked and praised a great deal since the video was released. There have been numerous parody videos made, but also some more concerning skepticism from augmented reality experts.
We wanted to get some more takes from experts in the field about just how realistic Project Glass, as we’ve seen it presented, really is. We intend to talk to others, but we started with Ogmento President and co-founder Brian Selzer. We talked to him last year about how augmented reality + location = “the holy grail for marketers”. Ogmento itself is an augmented reality gaming company trying to change the way consumers interact with their smartpnones. When we last talked to Selzer, Ogmento had released an iPhone game centered around Paranormal Activity.
First off, we might as well include Google’s original video, in the off chance you haven’t seen it by now. If you've seen it, continue on.
“The Project Glass video highlights the use of a HUD eyewear system to showcase data that can be acquired utilizing today's smartphone technologies (GPS, speech recognition, etc),” he says. “From that standpoint, the technology and information displayed on the screen is certainly possible in a short period of time. The quality and performance of the HUD user experience itself is another matter though, and certainly worthy of a bit of skepticism. It's coming though.”
“I was not very impressed with the UI/UX design in the Project Glass video,” he adds. “There is a fine line between useful and dangerous, or appealing and annoying. Sometimes less is more.”
The following videos show some potential dangers and annoyances:
“The navigational example worked pretty well, but some of the other examples fell a bit short in answering the question of ‘why’, and will leave a lot of people scratching their heads,” says Selzer.
“Once we start to bring true computer vision into the mix, and the display screen serves up data related more to the people, places and things around us (not just gps), it will become much more interesting, relevant, and perhaps a bit more clear why HUD technology can be so exciting at the mass-market level,” he says.
We recently looked at a presentation given earlier this year by one of the Google Glass engineers. He talked about the possibilities of contact lenses, which could basically act in similar ways to the glasses:
In his presentation, he shared a slide highlighting some key areas that could be impacted: gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality, interfacing with mobile, super vision, night vision, multi-focal electronic contact lenses, and “...” which would represent an infinite number of possibilities I presume.
Speaking of Google contact lenses, we asked Selzer if this would make things more plausible.
“Companies are definitely looking at contact lenses as a solution to help solve issues such as simultaneous focus,” he tells us. “I'm doubtful this is the best solution for mass-market consumption though. I can see this approach being adopted by the military, and perhaps a small group of hardcore gamers, super gadget geeks, etc...”
Personally, I can’t stand having things in my eye, so I tend to agree with the skepticism about mainstream appeal, although, admittedly, the cool factor (if truly cool) could get some of us to reconsider.
I think it’s clear that Google’s Project Glass promo has ignited some major interest in augmented reality technology. We asked Selzer if he expects a lot more developers to get involved with the technology because of the glasses.
“Google was early to step into the AR ring with their Google Goggles computer vision technology,” says Selzer. Google Goggles, if you’re unfamiliar, is a technology that lets users take pictures of things with their phones and get search results based on the image.
“Now with Project Glass it seems they are confirming their commitment to the AR space,” Selzer adds. “They are in a great position to pioneer here, so the fact that Google is now showcasing HUD technology is exciting.”
Some are speculating that Google could show off the glasses at Google I/O, the company’s annual developers conference, which takes place in June. If that turns out to be the case, it should at least get a lot of developers thinking about the possibilities, even if APIs aren’t released to help fuel the creativity.
“Today's AR is typically a short-burst experience due to having to hold your mobile device up in front of your eyes,” he says. “Optimal or prolonged AR simply begs to be experienced with glasses. Once we have a wearable hands-free solution that works well, the AR industry will see even more growth. For developers looking to stay ahead of the pack, AR is truly an exciting space right now. It's still very early, and we're just getting started.”
Even as that may be the case, we’re already seeing some pretty interesting implementations of AR:
I’m sure you’ve seen other examples. That eBay one directly shows how the tech can be used in e-commerce.
“When it comes to augmented reality advancements, both hardware and software continue to evolve at a decent pace,” Selzer says. “Mobile devices, cameras, sensors, display screens.. all continue to advance towards an AR-enabled world.”
“Many companies are investing in the space,” he adds. “Microsoft's Kinect utilizes a 3D depth-sensing camera that allows for a very rich understanding of the environment. One can imagine some exciting scenarios when this camera technology is brought to mobile devices... we will be able to ‘see’ the world in a whole new way.”
As a matter of fact, we recently looked at a concept video from Microsoft in which they show some pretty interesting ideas, using Kinect.
“Sony's SmartAR technology shows great promise for large-space AR experiences,” he says. “Qualcomm is leading the way for mobile developers to get their hands on some great computer vision software and start to experiment. Apple has some interesting patents in the space, and it's only a matter of time before they wow us. Overall, there continues to be exciting advancements in AR as more and more large companies and professionals focus in this space.”
Keeping in mind that 2pac just performed at Coachella, one can imagine a pretty broad range of possibilities.
“In the future we will be able mix console-like gaming experiences into our everyday world,” he says.
If you have a hard time imagining that, I’d highly recommend watching this video where someone imagined playing a future Battlefield game using the Google glasses:
“We will run to stay fit by collecting Pac-Man pellets along the actual road, or by racing to avoid a pack of zombies,” he says.
Sounds a lot better than Wii fit:
“We will look at the landscape around us and understand its history and significance instantly,” says Selzer.
Google would have a major edge up in that department with things like Google Earth, Google Maps, Street View, Sketchup, etc. APIs, would be the key though. With developers turned loose on this stuff, I wonder how many people would spend more time in alternate realities than in the reality we currently reside in.
“We will never forget the name of that person in our social network again when we run into them at a party,” he says. “The Google glasses video just scratches the surface of such potential. We're just getting started here.”
“Today, we love our smartphone devices -- so much so, we bump into each other because we are glued to the screens and forget to look where we're going,” Selzer adds. “Tomorrow we will love our wearable devices -- seamlessly integrated, allowing us to look up and still remain connected.”
Hopefully it goes better than some of the Project Glass parodies we looked at above.
“The coolest gadgets will be the ones that are invisible, or a part of our everyday attire,” Selzer concludes. “Just a natural part of us as we go about our lives.”
Google certainly isn’t the only one working on wearable technology, by any means. Look at what Oakley’s doing. There are rumors that Apple and Valve may be working together on something. Expect to see more of this kind of stuff emerging in the near future. Next year’s Consumer Electronics Show should be an interesting one.
What do you think about the Google Glasses? Augmented reality in general? Let us know in the comments.