What You Need to Know About Google Augmented Reality Glasses

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Google GlassesThe rumours regarding the possible launch of Google’s far awaited augmented reality head-up display (HUD) glasses by the end of 2012 have taken tech blogs by storm in the last few days. Leaked by undisclosed Google employees, the so-called Google Goggles (the name of Google’s popular image search mobile app) are to be released to the public as an experiment somewhat like the Chromebooks in 2011 and priced similar to a smartphone.  So what should we expect from this new gadget?

Understanding Google Glasses’ Technical Specs

From the two main blogs that claim to have access to the latest developments from the mysterious Google X labs – 9to5 Google and NY Times blog – we already have a series of possible technical specs regarding Google’s glasses.

Samsung AMOLED Display
Samsung AMOLED Flexible and Transparent Display Showcased in 2010

Transparent LED or AMOLED display. It seems obvious to choose a transparent display for a pair of glasses; however the type of display chosen will certainly play an essential role not only for the user experience but also in their general bulkiness.

Low resolution built-in camera. If this proves to be true, it can come as a great disappointment for many HD fans out there. But don’t give up on Google just yet! The camera will only act as the ‘eyes’ of your glasses, not your eyes, as it will be used for image recognition purposes to display the right set of digital information on top of your real view through the transparent display (HUD).

If augmented reality capabilities are not enough for you, capturing images and low resolution videos will most likely be possible as well. Though, with the latest smartphones already incorporating full HD cameras, we expect that this hic-up will soon be fixed by Google, maybe even before their release. Furthermore, no mention of 3D capabilities for either the internal camera or the AR software will probably be met with dismay, especially when most AR mobile browsers are already capable of 3D rendering and 3D smartphone cameras are starting to gain popularity.

Motion sensor and Gyroscope?  We don’t know for sure if the motion sensor cited by NY Times blog refers to a motion detector as the one integrated in many alarm systems and which can potentially be used to give warnings about approaching vehicles for example, or to a gyroscope used in most smartphones to track their tilting (very popular for gaming apps in providing a better user experience and interaction).

The latter one will almost certainly be responsible for the really cool feature of Google glasses: a navigation system using head tilting to scroll and click. 9to5 Google says that this will be “very quick to learn and once the user is adept at navigation, it becomes second nature and almost indistinguishable to outside users”. Whether this will be the case is the most important question Google will be answering at the launch. A high-tech pair of glasses capable of computer-like functionality is worthless without a quick, smooth and user-friendly navigation.

Cloud Computing or Android?
Cloud Computing, Android or both?

Android based or Cloud based? It appears to be a big gap between the two sources when it comes to the actual software/ OS that will run on the new gadget. While NY Times talks about an Android based system with full Internet capabilities, 9to5 Google clearly mentions that the device is not an “Android peripheral” and it will directly communicate with the Cloud over IP.

Taking into consideration the time lapse between the two articles of almost 3 months (NY Times’ is the most recent), it is possible that the latest developments and increasing popularity of Android OS might have replaced the initial Cloud based decision. It clearly makes sense to use a system that has already proven its functionality, that can be easily integrated with the other Google devices and which supports a whole lot of existing apps.

This becomes even more important when an integration with the popular Google apps has also been rumoured. Google Latitude, Google Maps and Google Goggles are only a few of the apps that will most likely be installed on the new device and, according to a Google employee, will display information in an augmented reality view.

Oakley Thumps
Google sources say the glasses will look very similar to this Oakley’s Thumps

The Design. Most rumours to date refer to an Oakley Thump inspired design with the heads up display (HUD) available only for one eye on the side. With a few video-enabled glasses out there, Google can take some inspiration from some of them such as the Vuzix video eyewear and learn from the less aesthetically-appealing ones like Motorola’s Kopin Golden-i AR glasses.

Being a wearable device, Google has to pay a great deal of attention to how the glasses will finally look, especially with so many eyes focused on them. However, with the glasses being launched in a pilot programme, there is a high probability that Google will not concentrate too much on their aspect, leaving it for the newer versions, but more on its usability.

The Battery. There is no information regarding the type of battery used or its longevity; however, because they are designed not be worn for more than a few hours per day, the AR glasses are expected to have enough battery power to last for an entire day cycle.

Beyond AR Glasses Technology

The success or failure of Google augmented reality glasses will not depend only on the final product’s technological limitations but also on the way the company will alleviate a series of ethical, security and health concerns that come with their technological parts.

Augmented Reality Privacy Issues
What you may be able to see through the AR glasses

A built-in camera, Internet connection and GPS make the wearer a moving target for Google’s advertising ‘arrows’, correlating a person’s real life activities with their online presence. Getting access to the Holy Grail of marketing, Google will be able to display ads from a competitor when you look at a bank’s local branch or overlay interactive ads when you read a magazine. But how much information are users willing to share until it transforms in a real privacy and security threat and how long are users willing to endure being bombarded with ads before becoming really annoyed?!

The built-in camera privacy concerns refer not only to the wearer but also to the people surrounding them. Google sources pointed out in the NY Times blog that they want to “ensure that people know if they are being recorded by someone wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera.” The way in which they are going to achieve this is still unknown, especially because a blinking red LED light (like the one used on normal hand-held cameras) may not be enough.

Then there are also the health concerns regarding the 3G/ 4G data connection. Having what is effectively a smartphone so closed connected to your head for an extended period of time will surely raise many questions about the potential health risks.

Looking beyond their potential technical problems and considering that Google will be able to alleviate all the above-mentioned concerns, the AR glasses have the potential of becoming the next big thing in mobile technology, next to smartphones and tablets.

Update: To get a glimpse on how these AR glasses will impact our future have a look at 8 Amazing Ways Google Glasses Will Change Education.

What other technologies would you like to be integrated in Google AR Glasses? What feature or set of features would determine you to buy the gadget? We would like to hear your opinions about this bold Google project in the comments section below.  

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