John Floren

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Posted 2012/8/21

On Google’s Project Glass

Ever since I was in high school, I wanted a wearable computer. The existing systems were clunky and expensive, but I didn’t care–I wanted to possibilities inherent in having a computer instantly accessible at any time. There are a lot of exciting possibilities in complementing human intellect with a powerful processor and rapid-access storage.

I even built one for my senior design project. It was clunky–you had to put a netbook in a bag, with lots of wires running up to the bulky and ugly binocular display. I built my own chording keypad and while it kind of sucked it was still fun. Here’s the webpage

Google’s Project Glass is a beautiful implementation of the wearable computer. For one thing, they finally learned the lesson of so many attempts and went with a small monocular display. The actual computing hardware is tiny, and even including the battery the device is incredibly light. It sits lightly on the head, like a pair of glasses.

And yet every time a news article about Glass comes up, the comments are filled with people saying how ugly/nerdy they look, and that nobody will buy something that makes them look so dumb. Well, I don’t think it’s possible to look dumber than a guy walking down the sidewalk holding his smartphone in front of his face and a bluetooth headset in his ear. We’ve shown over the last few years that we want our smartphones available at all times. Project Glass gives you a smartphone-like device that you don’t have to clutch in your hands at all times, and which will simply display in front of your eye. I think people will flock to a Glass-like phone. The promise of instant access to our stuff, without fumbling the phone out of your pocket, is just too good. It helps that they’ll initially be very expensive, making it a status symbol and thus less subject to the “looks dumb” criticism. Notifications can be accomplished with a flash on the screen or a discreet tone played against the user’s head, saving everyone else from obnoxious beeps and ringtones. I would expect some sort of Bluetooth keypad/trackball to be one of the very first accessories, allowing you to unobtrusively control the device (voice commands are often inappropriate).

I’m not thrilled with the idea of a future full of people standing around staring blankly to the upper right and maybe tapping on a bluetooth keypad. However, I don’t see it being worse than staring blankly at a smartphone all the time. A phone in the hand says, “I’m busy, don’t bug me or I’ll have to turn this off and set it down”. Maybe with the unobtrusive, always-there nature of Project Glass, we’ll be less likely to use it as a “do not disturb” sign, and be more willing to interact with people who are wearing than people who have phones out.

I don’t envy schoolteachers if these things become popular, though.