Project Glass Is The Future Of Google
by Peter Ha
Over the last few years one could easily say that Google had lost their way. They were no longer known for search. Somehow they’d turned into a company that acquired a series of nonsensical entities, launched half baked products that eventually hit the dead pool or just got into some really weird shit.
But last year that all started to change as the company announced that it would focus on its core products. Hindsight always being 20/20 it all makes sense. It’s like anything else, really. Spitball as many ideas as you possibly can just to see what sticks. And so whether it was by design or not, Project Glass is the future of Google. Not as a product that will make them billions of dollars but what it means for Google as a company and its future.
“The charter of Google X is to take bold risks and push the edges of technology beyond what they’ve been to where the future might be,” Sergey Brin told a small group of reporters duing demo of Project Glass. “We want you to be less of a slave to your devices. It’s been really liberating and I’m really excited to share it with all of you.”
Brin noted that Project Glass is what Google believes could be the next form factor of computing. As it stands now, many of us are willingly beholden to our smartphones with all the web browsing, twittering, pathing, instagramming and whatever else consuming most of our time. Human interaction has all but faded away. The fact that people play the “stacking game” is comical and cute but a sign of how infatuated we are with technology. Glass has the potential to buck that trend by “keeping people in the moment,” said Steve Lee, Product Manager for Glass. Brin also mentioned that Glass shouldn’t be used to fill idle time or to browse the web and that your phone or tablet perfectly fits those needs.
Dorky as they might look, Glass signals the first glimpse of how to integrate such invasive and important technology into our lives in a more seamless way. Isabelle Olsson, the industrial design guru on the team, says the design of Glass ensures “you can look into people’s eyes.” During my brief time with Sergey’s Glass, I can say that the display didn’t hinder my ability to see or look around. The display disappeared until I needed to see what was being shown. I might never have to pull my phone out again to reply to a text, get directions or snap a photo. So, yeah, I’ll deal with looking like a dork but don’t be surprised to see Glass integrated with existing glasses. Brin did mention that Google has been in talks with eyeglass makers and the like.
While the hardware is still in prototype phase, I overheard Brin say that he’s experienced up to six hours of juice off a single charge. But that can and will likely change based on usage (uploading photos, capturing video, etc.). Photos, for instance, will be stored locally and can by synced with the cloud later. Both Lee and Brin said that they’re working hard to optimize what data is being transmitted and stored both on the device and in the cloud to alleviate any battery woes. There may be settings that allow users to control the content being shared until you’re within reach of Wi-Fi or when you’ve plugged in your Glasses for the night. Babak Parviz, a contributor to Project Glass, said a previous build allowed him to query a voice search for the capital of China broadening his own knowledge base to everything that’s available on the Web.
I asked what actually worked on Glass now and Brin politely skirted the question by saying that they’re testing and implementing various features with each build to see what sticks. Facial recognition, while discussed and experimented with, doesn’t sound like it’s been compelling enough that the team wants to immediately integrate it.
Here’s what you won’t see in Glass: advertising. Brin stated pretty vehemently that they have no plans to integrate advertising into Glass and that the only plan is to simply sell the hardware, which will be “significantly” cheaper than the $1,500 Explorer Editions that were announced today. The Glass team says they’re focused on the quality of the experience and not making it as cheap as possible. (Thank gawd.)
Core Google apps like Gmail and Plus (Hangouts) are being tested now along with Android apps. What isn’t clear is whether or not the Android and Google apps teams are working with the team at Glass and vice versa.
So what was the reason for today’s announcement of the $1,500 Explorer Edition of Project Glass? It’s actually a slight pivot from what they’ve done in the past. For once, the typical Google way of pushing out half-done products might work to their advantage. Parviz, Lee and Brin emphasized how important it will be to involve the developer community to further push the platform before Glass becomes available to consumers some time next year. Speaking of ship dates, Brin says the consumer version will ship within a year of when the Explorer Editions ship. Developers will have access to a cloud-based API that is “pretty far along.”
Does this mean Google wants to compete with Microsoft or Apple toe-to-toe? No. Google will always be the weird kid in the corner who sporadically does something mindblowing. They’re not thinking about what’s going on now but what might happen in the distant future. Everything they’ve done up until now seems like a tiny spec of something larger and greater. The late Ray Bradbury said it best: “Life is trying things to see if they work.” And that appears to be what Google is doing.
SOLVING THE NEED FOR UBIQUITOUS COMPUTING--WHILE MAKING THE TECH AS UNOBTRUSIVE AS POSSIBLE:
At Google X, the company’s now-not-so-top-secret R&D lab, engineers and neuroscientists and artificial-intelligence experts dream up a future without the pressure of market deadlines: driverless cars, robots, space elevators. But for lead product manager Steve Lee, his X pursuits are anything but an exercise in the fantastical: Project Glass, the futuristic eyeware he’s developing with an interactive heads-up display, might just hit market in the near future alongside products like Gmail and Android.
For Lee, it’s a matter of wrangling a sci-fi idea into a practical product. Whereas Apple and Microsoft have grounded their mobile future in the belief that the Post-PC World will revolve around the pillars of smartphones and tablets, Google is adding a late, left-field entry into the mobile space that’s as much of a technical feat as it is a fashion statement. In the first part of our interview published earlier week, Lee told Fast Company "something like this has never been created before." Today, he tells us what goes into designing a product like Google Glass.
THE PROBLEM: HOW DO YOU KEEP PEOPLE CONNECTED, BUT STILL PRESENT IN MEATSPACE?
Lee calls much modern-day technology a distraction. "If you walk around the streets of New York, people have their smartphones out and they’re looking down. They do that while they’re standing around, waiting for a bus or a taxi, or while they’re walking. Even if you go out to dinner with a friend or a date, the technology is taking them away," he says." But at the same time, people clearly have a desire to be connected to the Internet. We thought that was a really interesting problem to solve: trying to get technology out of the way while allowing people to still be connected out in the real world."
WHAT TAKES 60 SECONDS ON A PHONE WILL TAKE TWO TO FOUR SECONDS ON GLASS.
Lee ticks off some annoying use cases of traditional tech: holding a device up for an extended period to record a video, which he calls "fatiguing," or yanking out your phone to look up a map or share a photo. "Let’s say you’re meeting a friend at a bar you haven’t been to before. You just want to quickly check a map to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Even with my phone, it still takes a long time today to pull it out of my pocket, unlock it, open up Google Maps, and zoom into my location," he says. "A design goal for Project Glass is to make that much faster and much easier. What may take 30 to 60 seconds on a phone will instead take two to four seconds on Glass. Making that substantial of an improvement on speed and access will hopefully prove to be a game changer. I mean, you can capture moments with something like our Project Glass prototype that are impossible or just inconvenient or awkward with camera phone. If you can do those things in a few seconds, that’s going to be really meaningful to people."
It’s actually why the team called the device Google Glass, as opposed to say, Google Glasses. "Glass has a lot of connotations but certainly one is how to view this technology: being transparent and getting out of the way," he says. "Past wearable computer projects that people have seen likely conjure up something that gets in your way and blocks your vision or senses. That’s actually counter to our project goal. Everything around our design is exactly the opposite of that."
ANOTHER PROBLEM: HOW DO USERS INTERACT WITH IT?
We’ve gone from mouse and keyboard controls on PCs, to touch screens on smartphones and tablets, to hand gestures on Xboxes. Now with Glass, Google wants to move to the next level of interactivity. But how? Lee’s team hasn’t settled on specifics but he takes me through the experimentation process.
WE’VE DABBLED AND EXPERIMENTED WITH LOTS OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF INPUT."The input to this device is a real challenge because there is no physical keyboard--just like a phone doesn’t have a physical keyboard--and there is no touch screen either. How do you input? We’ve dabbled and experimented with lots of different types of input including using your voice, using some type of touch interface on the side of the device itself, as well as using your head," Lee says. "So using your head as input, for example, we’ve tried dozens and dozens of different types of head gestures. As you can imagine, some are more extreme than others. It creates a pretty funny experience. In fact, we created a game internally, both to exercise and test things out, but also to demonstrate the absurdity of using your head. It’s kind of like DDR but with your head instead of your feet."
"We created some pretty funny videos," he adds, with a chuckle. "I think there will likely be some way to move your head, which is comfortable and natural for a user, as well as not make them look odd and strange. But there’s many, many [gestures] that would definitely make you look strange to observers."
TRYING TO SOLVE THE DORK FACTOR
Designing Google Glass isn’t like designing an app on a smartphone that only that user and that user alone will see. All factors must be considered--the comfort, the style, the ergonomics, the societal acceptance--because, as Lee puts it, "You care about how it looks on your face. Unlike software or even hardware like a phone which you can sort of sneak into your pocket, this is quite visible--you can’t hide it."
It was a lesson Lee learned while playing around with early prototypes--such as a wearable computer he housed in a backpack to power the eyeware. "As you can imagine: not super comfortable. Setting aside style issues, it was simply not comfortable. Another thing that you really start to appreciate when you put things on your head is how important weight is--every single gram. I’ve never thought about 0.1 grams before as much as I have on this project," Lee says. "Societal acceptance and style are also extremely important. Because we can create the coolest Google technology and functionality, but if it’s embarrassing to wear around people, then it’s not going to get adoption."
I’VE NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT 0.1 GRAMS BEFORE AS MUCH AS I HAVE ON THIS PROJECT.
Lee acknowledges that because of all the style, functionality, and ergonomic issues involved, it is "unlikely that we’ll be able to service everyone, though that is our ultimate aim." When asked whether Google might outsource the product’s hardware to fashion designers such as Gucci and Prada, as we have suggested--and just as Android does with smartphone makers--Lee seems open to the idea.
"I think it’s TBD," he says. "There’s just all these different connotations and permutations--like eyeglasses and sunglasses--so it’s really hard to address everyone. Certainly we’re going to consider partnering with various folks to accelerate that. But it’s really early on, and I don’t know how exactly it’s going to unfold. But we’re certainly considering it."
THE PROTOTYPING BREAKTHROUGH: GETTING THE THING OUT OF THE WAY.
We’ve seen the current prototype now in design renderings, concept videos, on Charlie Rose, and even on Sergey Brin. Lee takes us through the design behind the current iteration of Project Glass. (For insight into early iterations, check out the first part of our interview with Lee.)
"There are a number of attractive things about this form factor: It’s actually quite sleek and has a nice profile," he says. "One key aspect of the prototype that we’re showing right now is that the display piece is actually up and out of the way. That was a key insight that we learned while developing this. Again, it gets back to the point of trying to free up people’s senses, and get out of the way. Putting lenses and things in the way of your eyes, we think is certainly a real challenge and has drawbacks. Putting the display up and out of the way, I feel very comfortable having a face-to-face conversation with someone, who doesn’t feel weird or odd, because I can make eye contact with them."
KEVIN MAKO, MAKO INVENT
06/06/2012 05:15 PM
Mako is a new-product development company for Inventors and Product Developers to Design, Prototype, Manufacture, and Sell their Inventions. Est. 1999, Mako is North America's top company for taking customers’ products from Idea to Store Shelves.
It's amazing, as soon as a new technology concept is released (a while ago for
this), at our invention development firm we get inundated with home inventors
coming up with brilliant applications for it, long before the base technology
is even released to market. It's almost as if the innovation lifecycle of a product is quickly compressing as information exchange and collaborative efforts increase in society.
Busy as a bee at the ARSSN labs. Working on shareable experiences on Social Network sites. In the meantime, READ THIS recent article from PSFK, a leader in the inter-webs for innovative and new technology information.
To sum up the progress / connections that I made during my recent business trip to New York City: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I wish it would be possible to get the same quality of business man in Massachusetts, but unfortunately, one cannot. That basic drive, the yearning that can be seen every morning during the subway commute of the NYC workforce, simply DOES NOT exist this far north.