You've probably heard of Google Glass by now. But if you've missed the hype, Google finally released the first wearable computer produced specifically for a consumer market this spring. In development for several years, this prototype can take photos, shoot video, send email and browse the Internet -- and much more. Early adopters applied on Google+ or Twitter with a 50-word pitch accompanied by the hashtag "#ifihadglass." Individuals who were chosen by curators (and some who weren't) could then purchase the $1500 glasses and pick them up in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
A particular nerdy demographic is partial to wearing them out and about (as evidenced on this funny Tumblr blog.) And they've already been mocked on the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, so you know they've officially arrived. But it has its fans as well, and with a competitor already in the works -- wearable computers are here to stay.
As an Interactive Producer for KQED Science, I'm able to indulge my love for science-related stories on a regular basis. So when I saw the call for Glass Explorers go out this past February, I was eager to apply. We've produced videos where scientists climb high up into redwoods trees, zoom around in driverless cars, explore the ocean deep and fly through the skies. With Glass, we could experiment with capturing their personal experiences out in the field and show a more direct, point-of-view perspective. Maybe we could be in an operating room or give students a live walking tour of a research facility like this Michigan physics teacher, Andrew Vanden Heuvel, who showed his students the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
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Getting My Glass
Once I received my email saying my Glasses were ready for me, KQED Science's Senior Editor Andrea Kissack and I headed downtown to one of Google's San Francisco's offices. I spent a few minutes modeling various color choices with another rep, then met up with my "Google Guide," Sara Afifi. She patiently sat with me for the next hour, showing me the ropes of our new device. I have a rather small nose, so it took a few minutes to adjust the pads so that I could see the screen properly through the viewfinder. Swiveling it closer or further away from my face also changed the image's position.
Here's a rundown of basic tech specs:
- Glass receives 3G/4G data either through Wi-Fi or when it's tethered to a Bluetooth connection from an Android-enabled device or iPhone. And there's a "MyGlass" smartphone app for Android users that helps you configure and manage your device. You can also use the app to "screencast" your activity onto your Android phone so other users can see what you're seeing through Glass. Two additional features are only available to Android users -- SMS and turn-by-turn directions -- and the latter uses Glass' built-in GPS chip.
- There's 12 GB of usable memory that's synced with Google cloud storage (with a total of 16 GB flash memory.) According to their website, the high-resolution display is "the equivalent of a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away." Photos taken with Glass have 5 MP resolution, while videos produce 720p HD resolution. Glass also comes with two interchangeable lenses: tinted and clear.
- Audio is delivered through bone conduction transducer technology. Sara mentioned that one hearing-impaired user she worked with was concerned she wouldn't be able to use the device to its full capability. But due to the way sound is transmitted by Glass to the inner ear, she was able to interact with Glass perfectly.
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Does This Glass Make Me Look Geeky?
So how did they feel, and how did I feel about wearing them? Was it a "Segway for my face?" (Or worse?) They were lighter than I anticipated and with the subdued "shale" color I had picked out -- they appeared more unobtrusive in person than what I had seen in photos and videos. (Sara predicted that I may upgrade to a brighter color in the near future -- she was on her third pair and had switched to the livelier pastel coral shade. "People are staring at you anyway, so you might as well show it off!" she laughed.) And it felt surprisingly natural peering through the small screen, which is akin to viewing the world through your own miniature movie theatre. (But my husband definitely made quite a few Terminator and Robocop jokes at my expense.)
You can control the device's features by saying the phrase, "Ok, Glass." I remember when Siri first rolled out several years ago, I was rather self-conscious about talking to my iPhone. But now that I'm used to chatting with my gadgets using voice-operated software, this aspect doesn't feel so awkward. Or you can swipe the right arm of the device to scroll through the menu of options. It did take me a while to get the hang of manually navigating through Glass, and I fumbled back and forth through the menus as I confused the left-right, up-down gestures for the first hour. But I became fairly adept at choosing the options I wanted over time and perused weather reports, performed some Google searches, read The New York Times and even had it read aloud several articles back to me.
So how would Glass function out in the world? Check out my next post as I take it on the road around Lake Tahoe.