The Internet giant Google is testing its newest gadget, Google Glass, which the company describes as a wearable computer that may revolutionize how users interact with each other and with the world.
Most of the Google Glass technology is already incorporated in smart phones. But Google researchers thought of using it in an unprecedented way.
“Google Glass is a tiny computer that sits in a lightweight frame, just like this, and rests neatly above your eye and it makes exploring and sharing the world around you a lot easier,” explained Chris Dale, senior manager of communications for Google Glass.
The frame has a tiny video screen and a camera that connect wirelessly to the Internet through a smartphone.
But what can you actually DO with Google Glass?
“That’s the million-dollar question, I guess,” Dale said.
Unsure about how Google Glass could or would be used, or how people would react to it, Google decided to enlist volunteers to test the new device. The goal was twofold — see what innovative ways people would come up with to use it, and to attract developers to create new apps.
“We look at Glass and wearable computing in general as the next platform in computing,” said Dale.
Dale says an average person uses a smartphone 150 times a day and Google Glass makes that technology available more quickly because it can respond to voice commands.
The device is turned on by tapping one side of the frame. When you say “Okay Glass” the screen shows a range of options, including search the web, take a picture, take video, send a message, and search for directions. Swiping the frame with a finger scrolls the menu up and down.
Google Glass transmits sound through vibration against the head. It has a medium-resolution camera — about five megapixels — and the projected image is like watching an iPhone screen.
Seth Rosenblatt, senior writer for Cnet News, says while it’s interesting to be able to do Internet-related tasks with nothing in your hand, wearing the device in public attracts a lot of attention.
“They’ve done something very interesting with technology, but in terms of social interactions they’ve got a very long way ahead of them,” he said.
Rosenblatt says its real potential will be tested by the public.
“I think the real test for Google Glass is going to be out on the street,” he said. “How are average people going to react when they’re forced to interact with somebody wearing Google Glass?”
Google says it is still testing the wearable computer, which runs on Google’s Android operating system, and is expected to be available by early next year.
The biggest criticism has been about privacy.
When Marcia Dawkins, a professor, first heard about Google Glass, she had only one thought.
“I thought this is something I definitely need for my classroom and hopefully for my personal life too,” she said.
Ms. Dawkin’s Google Glass looks like a pair of bright orange glasses, without lenses. But there’s a tiny rectangular glass at the top right-hand corner of her orange frame. Through that glass, Ms. Dawkins has been recording video while biking.
She’s also been able to talk to her sister in Thailand with Google Glass. She’s planning to use the device in her classroom to teach a public speaking class in the coming year. Ms. Dawkins also wants to record her lectures with Google Glass to allow her students to see what she sees.
“I often tell them at the beginning of the term, if you can see me I can see you, but they never believe me. They think they are invisible when they are behind the laptops,” said Ms. Dawkins.
Not everyone, however, embraces this new technology.
“It is essentially going to allow people to come in and spy on you and record that, without you knowing what is going on,” said John Simpson, director of the privacy project with the public interest group, Consumer Watchdog.
But Google’s Dale says the device is designed to address that concern.
“In order to activate the camera or to record the video, you have to take an explicit gesture or say something out loud. So I tap, I activate the device, and say ‘Okay, glass, take a picture.’ Similarly, I have a little button on the top here that I can push that will again show an explicit gesture to everybody around me that a picture is being taken and a video is being recorded,” he said.
Filmmaker Chris Barrett showed just how easy it is, though, to record people without them knowing. His glass captured a man getting arrested after a fight at a fireworks show. He posted the video to YouTube.
Mike DiGiovanni created a way to take pictures with just a wink.
Hackers have been able to get facial recognition technology to run on Glass. The technology can scan a face, identify the person and provide information about that person. Google says it will not approve face recognition applications.
Consumer Watchdog’s Simpson says it may be up to Congress, however, to protect people’s privacy.
“I think it is going to require some serious legislation. We are going to have to pass some laws,” he said.
Ms. Dawkins says privacy concerns will be a part of her classroom discussion, as she uses Google Glass to enhance her students’ learning experience.