Six months after a spectacular unveiling, Google is about to send the first round of Google Glass devices to developers. Developers will pay $1,500 (£920) for the privilege of receiving an early, prototype version of Google Glass, but the polished consumer version – due in 2014 – should be a lot cheaper.
As it stands, Google Glass is a browband – like a pair of spectacles, but without the lenses – with what basically amounts to a small ARM computer running Android attached to the right side, by your temple, and a large battery behind your right ear. There’s all the usual hardware that you would find in an Android smartphone – a speaker (near your ear), a forward facing camera, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, a couple of microphones, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth aerials – but instead of a large touchscreen, there’s a tiny display placed near your right eye.
In theory, if you’ve seen the original Glass promotional video (embedded below), Google’s goggles are meant to finally usher in the era of wearable computing. In reality, Google Glass is currently just like having an Android smartphone strapped to your head.
Whereas the promotional video promises augmented reality – maps, tags, or other markers superimposed on your current view – Google Glass doesn’t currently do any of that. Furthermore, the current incarnation of Google Glass doesn’t include a cellular radio – if you’re on the move, you’ll need to connect Google Glass to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Hopefully the first consumer-oriented version of Glass will have voice and head gesture controls, but for now interaction is achieved via a touch panel by your temple.
Why is Google Glass currently so limited? In a word: Batteries. Google is aiming for all-day battery life – a necessity for a wearable computer – but, reportedly, prototype devices only have a battery life of around six hours. The simple fact of the matter is that chemical batteries are heavy, and there’s a limit to how much weight you can add to a pair of spectacles before they become cumbersome. Google has also stated that it wants Glass to be a stylish accessory – which is tricky if you have a bunch of battery packs hanging from your ears.
If Glass only lasts six hours in its current form, adding augmented reality functionality would simply kill the battery – probably in under an hour. Augmented reality is basically a mix of three things: Location detection (GPS, Wi-Fi), head tracking (compass, gyro, accelerometer), and computer vision (processing input from the forward-facing camera to work out what you’re actually looking at). All three of these processes require a lot of power – especially computer vision. Short of a battery breakthrough – which is unlikely to happen – we probably won’t see true augmented reality Google Glass for some time.
How to make your own Google Glass
So, while wearable AR glasses are still just out of reach, it’s just a matter of time until the continued miniaturisation of technology eventually makes it possible. It is significant that Google – not a hardware company by any stretch of the imagination – has managed to create Google Glass using mostly off-the-shelf components.
Such commoditisation also means that you could build your own Google Glass – which is exactly what Rod Furlan did. The device is rudimentary – it’s tethered to an off-board iPod Touch – but for the most part it seems to work a lot like Google Glass. Furlan is already working on a second version that’s powered by a Raspberry Pi. If you’re not afraid of heading to eBay to source a few components, and a little bit of DIY work, it shouldn’t be too hard to replicate Furlan’s work.