If the buzz on the web is any indication, augmented reality glasses from Google (dubbed Project Glass) will be the next big thing, right after the latest version of the iPad, of course.
Google's Project Glass is one huge step beyond their Goggles app, which lets you use your smartphone's camera as a visual search tool. According to the scant information released so far about the experimental device, users can take photos, chat via speech to text, engage in video chats, get schedule reminders, 'check in' at locations, stream music, check the weather report and more.
Here's a quick overview of the product from Google:
"We think technology should work for you—to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t." - Google
Sounds great, right? A pair of glasses that would let you keep your camera or your phone in your pocket and just snap photos with the device instead, chat with friends or set up reminders with just your voice, get directions or view maps through a heads-up display would certainly seem to come in handy.
However, in our attention-deficit world, it may also be the cause of a rash of 'falling into a fountain while texting' incidents, or causing traffic accidents because we're paying attention to a video chat with a friend instead of focusing on the road in front of us.
Privacy advocates may raise an outcry about the possibility of having our location tracked and logged, or worry about the use of streamed video being used for surveillance or other nefarious purposes, and just as the tracking of cellphones is a concern, how does one make sure that when the device appears to be off, that it's not really still gathering data?
But if we can look beyond the obvious detractions of Project Glass, then we can dream of other ways to use this device in order to make our world a better place.
For instance, bicycle commuters may appreciate having realtime traffic or road condition updates (or perhaps being guided through an on-the-spot bike repair), local pollution monitors may benefit from users uploading photos of the sources of excessive emissions, and scientists may find a use for gathering other data from water or air sensors right from the glasses.
Conscientious grocery shoppers may be able to scan their produce stickers and see at a glance if the product is organic or get additional info on the farm itself. Fair Trade coffee connoisseurs could track the origin of their coffee at a glance. And CSA and market farmers may be able to send realtime updates on the progress of crops to their customers by walking through the fields with them, giving a virtual tour.
Questions about "Is this recyclable?" could be settled with a simple glance with the glasses at the code on the bottom of the packaging, and users may even be able to get directions to the nearest recycling bin.
Business meetings might be able to ditch the paper business cards in favor of scanning a permanent version of a card and having the info loaded into a contacts file, or perhaps replace physical note-taking with a video transcription from the glasses.
And if this project follows the Android opensource model, it may open the way for other sensors and environmental monitoring devices to be integrated or linked to the glasses, which could be a boon to scientists and let more crowdsourced data be gathered from users as they go about their daily business.
It's still up in the air whether or not we'll see these glasses on the retail market anytime soon, so all of this postulation may simply be that: hot air about vaporware. For this writer, I'm not so sure that I'd trade in the view of everyone staring at their smartphone or talking to thin air through a Bluetooth earpiece for a bunch of zombies wearing special glasses and ignoring the environment right in front of their faces.