A long running staple of science fiction and cyberpunk stories is augmented reality. Some kind of glasses, contact lenses, or implants that give a character a layer of information on top of what their standard perceptions of the world around them. Common examples are facial recognition that call up the name of the person you’re looking at, and maybe some related information. Or map directions overlaid onto the world. Or translating signs into the user’s preferred language. Basically it is like having an aircraft HUD (Head Up Display) shrunk down for personal use.
We’ve seen a few real work examples of augmented reality, with varying degrees of success. The most common are smartphone applications, such as Layar, which can overlay information onto the world as seen through the phone’s camera. So you can hold up the phone and call up different information – like icons for restaurants around you, or information culled from various social media sites, etc. But you don’t want to walk around holding your cell phone up in front of you, awkwardly looking at the world through its screen.
Well, Google has unveiled one of their pie in the sky projects aimed at making augmented reality practical – Project Glass. And it isn’t just a concept, Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been spotted in public wearing an early working prototype. The initial concept appears to be a monocular display that is worn like a pair of glasses. A combiner optic sits in front of the eye with most of the hardware contained in the frames. The basic information is displayed such that is appears in the user’s field of view, but when not displaying anything the combiner should appear transparent. They’ve also talked about a version for those who wear prescription glasses, so they’re not left out.
It is very early days and who knows when or even if Google commercializes the technology. But it does seem like just a matter of time until we have something like this available. The real problem has been the size of the technology. Past efforts to create something similar have relied on bulky LCD displays, and generally required the glasses to be cabled into a separate battery and processing unit. Google is hoping to create something self-contained within Project Glass.
The promotional video they released with the announcement of the project gives us a, somewhat cheesy, look at what they’re hoping to accomplish: