Google has several thousand people test-driving its optical head-mounted display product known as Google Glass. Each of these people has just been asked to invite three other people to join in and become “Explorers”. If you’re reading this anywhere outside the USA you can put your phone back down as the programme is only available to US residents over 18 years old.
Meanwhile, Marc Levoy, a Stanford professor, claims that Google’s first foray into wearable computing will give its users “superhero vision”. And he should know, since he’s has just finished a two-year sabbatical working on the Glass project. He argues that because the processing power of integrated circuits is increasing four times faster than the number of pixels a device can display, the rapidly improving enhancement of each pixel will enable excellent night vision, motion capture and augmented reality. If you’ve seen any of the promotional videos released for Glass earlier this year you’ll be aware of some of what augmented reality can offer, in the form of real-time map information, facial recognition and so on.
Of course not everyone is happy about this. Some people are concerned about privacy invasion, as they can be unknowingly photographed and videoed by anyone wearing a pair. Others fear that users will be distracted, or rendered anti-social by the technology. Thus the first traffic violation ticket has just been issued to a wearer in California, and the British police have let it be known that users risk being prosecuted here too. (This seems ironic given the possibility that the British police will soon themselves be wearing cameras to prevent them misrepresenting encounters with members of the public. This follows the scandal in which a handful of police officers allegedly conspired to frame a senior government minister in order to embarrass the government during a pay dispute.)
Other people just think that people wearing Glass look silly.
We still don’t know when Google Glass will go on sale to the rest of us, or how much they will cost. Or indeed what “super-powers” they will provide on release. It seems likely that Google will “dumb down” the first batch of Glass to give people a chance to get accustomed to seeing them in the wild. Cynics say that new digital technologies only get established when someone figures out how to use them for porn. But Glass won’t grant users x-ray vision. (Honestly, they won’t … will they?)
When the initial fuss has died down, or perhaps when lower-profile companies have pioneered more adventurous capabilities, Google may surprise us with what their technology can offer.