From a technical standpoint, a pair of commercially available, augmented reality glasses by Google are very possible by the end of the year. The display might look pretty good, too. So says Blair MacIntyre, a computer scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who founded the school's Augmented Environments Lab in 1999.
Since December, the New York Times' Bits blog and the blog 9to5Google have gathered reports from unnamed sources that Google is working on a pair of glasses that would present wearers with information about real objects they see in the world around them. Google's partnership with Zagat, for example, might allow the glasses to show reviews for restaurants where wearers direct their gaze. Perhaps combined with Google Maps, the device could search for nearby landmarks and show walking directions. The glasses will have voice input and output and will send data directly to the Internet, according to the unnamed reports. The news finally hit it big when Bits reported that the glasses would be available by the year's end, retailing for $250 to $600.
Of course, smartphone applications already let users hold up their phones and see restaurant reviews and nearby subway stops, displayed in bubbles floating on top of a view of the scene. But glasses technology would make the science fiction vision of an enhanced reality seem much more real.
"I think what gets people excited," MacIntyre told InnovationNewsDaily, "is they imagine this future where I'm walking down a street and I can just see information on stuff around me."
Glasses make that more possible because people keep them on and don't have to stop, take out their phones and run an app before seeing the added info. Glasses allow for serendipity.
“It's that idea of stumbling on interesting things as you go through your daily life," MacIntyre said.
Though Google will not officially comment on the glasses project, MacIntyre thinks it's "pretty possible" the company could pull them off — with a "pretty nice" display — by the end of the year. Many of the technologies the glasses would use are already up and running in phones now, he said. One additional technology the device will need is an orientation sensor, so it would know where its wearer was looking.
It would also need a way of showing users transparent information bubbles on top of reality. Making those bubbles look good is the biggest challenge, MacIntyre said. The glasses may use a camera to relay the world onto their screen, which is how augmented reality smartphone apps work. There are also more sophisticated optics technologies that can make translucent information bubbles, such as lasers that draw images onto the retina.
MacIntyre is hopeful that the final product will look and work well because unlike a smaller company, Google has the ability to pour much more money into developing the device than they might expect to initially recoup. In a Feb. 21 post, the Bits blog said Google is not yet thinking about a business model for the glasses. Instead, the company wants to see if consumers like it.
If the buzz on the Web is any indication, many are curious to see their Google services projected onto real life. As for MacIntyre, he said, "I personally am very excited about the idea of somebody creating an affordable, really functional head-worn display."
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