If you want one indication that augmented reality glasses aren’t quite ready to be the new revolution in tech, you need only go as far as the product name. Since Google’s glasses don’t actually have lenses, the company is calling its version "Google Glass." But try using that in a sentence. "I’m wearing a pair of Google Glass" makes the grammarian in me want to scream. "I’m wearing Google Glass" makes me think of a wearable windowpane. And "I’m wearing the Google Glass" just sounds pretentious.
Meanwhile, another serious competitor in this field, U.K.-based company, The Technology Partnership, hasn’t even given its version a name. They’re designing the hardware for augmented reality glasses and are in talks with a handful of companies (they won’t say who) to develop software that will make the glasses truly user-friendly.
While we’re waiting for the new accessory to hit the market, here’s an overview of where the technology is and what both companies are doing.
What You’ll Sport: You can either resemble a monocle-wearing sci-fi villain (Google’s version) or be a hipster-ish LeBron James in a pair of fake plastic specs (TTP). Neither option is currently compatible with actual glasses, so you’ve either got to have contacts or 20-20 vision. "Google Glass is designed to make a statement," says TTP’s business development manager, Dr. Allan Carmichael. "And they did on the catwalk at fashion week. We want to make ours as subtle as possible so that you can’t identify whether a person is wearing them."
What You’ll See: Google Glass has an embedded camera and a small screen above the right eye that projects images (pictures, email, maps, etc.) into the wearer’s field of vision. These images are both small and in the viewer’s periphery; at least one journalist who tried them on had to keep closing his left eye in order to focus. TTP’s glasses have transparent plastic lenses, which contain an optical structure that works in concert with a micro-projection system in the glasses leg. Their main advantage is a true "heads-up" display, which superimposes images onto the natural view out in front of you—like the street or your living room. ("Heads-up" was initially a military term to describe the digital projection used by pilots in airplanes.) The display differs from Google’s in that pictures appear on the horizon. You don’t need to shut an eye or squint; you simply see. TTP says its display will actually be quite helpful for users who are farsighted or need reading glasses. "It’ll be hugely beneficial for people in their fifties," says Dr. Carmichael.
How They Work: Google Glass works through voice activation or by using the glasses leg as a touchpad. TTP’s version will work in conjunction with a smartphone, and the company is developing an eye-movement response (i.e., you can bring up your email simply by looking at the icon in your field of vision or even by blinking).
How You’ll Use Them: These glasses will eventually have all the functionality of a hands-free smartphone. You’ll be able to snap photos, check your email, or pull up websites. They will come in handy for navigation, such as projecting arrows onto the street that indicate whether to turn right or left. In hospitals, doctors will be able to pull up a patient’s vitals and medical history, simply by looking at them. TTP is currently working with an unnamed partner on developing the glasses for emergency services, including first responders or firefighters. Of course, companies could also figure out how to make ads pop up in your field of vision, bombarding you as you walk down the street. And while the glasses could prevent potentially embarrassing social situations—you forget someone’s name and deploy Facebook’s facial recognition software to retrieve his identity—they could also finger you when you’d rather be incognito. (The pixilated balaclava will have a whole new function before we know it.)
The "specs": Google’s version has an embedded microphones, camera, Bluetooth, processor, and compass among other features. TTP’s don’t contain these features yet. They will be developed in conjunction with the software, once the company settles on a partner. Both the Google and TTP prototypes weigh about the same as a pair of regular glasses. Google’s are currently priced at $1,500, but even if you’ve got that kind of cash, the models are only available for select developers.
[Water Image: Krzysztof Kostrubiec via Shutterstock]