It was just over a decade ago now but I can still vividly remember walking around the streets of Akihabara in Tokyo. It’s a technical wonderland and back then when Internet shopping was something only crazy people did (for fear of losing your credit card details) it was filled with the kind of technology you couldn’t find anywhere else. I was there on a mission looking for a pocket translator similar to the one my Japanese teacher had lent me. While my quest went unfulfilled I did manage to see all sorts of technology there that wouldn’t make it to Australia shores for years to come, and one piece in particular stuck in my mind.
There was a row of these chunky looking head sets, each hooked up to what looked like a portable CD player. I remember picking one up and looking at the headset I saw two tiny displays in it, one for each eye. Putting on the headset I was greeted to a picture that seemed massive in comparison to the actual size of the device playing some kind of demo on a loop. It wasn’t perfect but it was enough to make me fascinated with the concept and I thought it wouldn’t be long before everyone had some kind of wearable display. Here we are just over a decade later and the future I envisioned hasn’t yet come to pass but it seems we’re not far off.
Today Google announced Project Glass, one of their brain childs of the secretive Google[x] lab. There’s been rumours floating around for quite a while now that they were working on something of this nature but no one could give much above the general idea that it would be a head mounted display and Android would be powering it. Looking over what Google’s released today as well as the comments from other news outlets makes it clear that Google is quite serious about this idea and it could be something quite revolutionary.
The initial headset designs I saw back when I heard the original rumours were the kind of of clunky, overly large glasses we’ve come to expect when anyone mentions a wearable display. Google’s current design (pictured above) seems rather elegant in comparison. It’ll still draw a lot of attention thanks to the chunky white bar at the side but it’s a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from wearable displays. What’s even more impressive is the concept demo they included alongside it, showcasing what the headset is capable of:
The possibilities for something like this are huge. Just imagine extending the capabilities to recognise faces of people you’ve met before, neatly side stepping that awkward moment when you forget someone’s name. You could even work a barcode scanner into it, allowing you to scan food to see the nutritional value (and then see if it fits in with your diet) before you purchase it. I could go on forever about the possibilities of a device like the Project Glass but suffice to say it’s quite an exciting prospect.
What will be really interesting to see is how these kind of devices blend in to every day social interactions. The smart phone and tablet managed to work their way into social norms rather quickly but a device like this is a whole other ball game. The sleek and unobtrusive design will help ease its transition in some what but I can still see a long adaptation period where people will wonder why the heck you’re wearing it. That won’t deter me from doing so though as it’s this kind of device that makes me feel like I’m living in the future. That’s all it takes for me to overcome any social anxiety that I might have about wearing one of these 😉
Most people know about the ideas of Virtual Reality, such as the concepts expressed in the Matrix trilogy of movies and other Science Fiction productions. However many people are unaware of the bridge between these worlds that already exists using today’s technology. This is known as Augmented Reality and it attempts to enhance our current perception of the world using technology. The simplest form of this I can think of is Heads Up Displays (HUDs) that you can even get in your car these days (if you happen to own one of those spiffy European cars ;)). However I don’t want to get bogged down in the idea of visual augmented reality, as that’s really just a small part of it.
With today’s technology putting more and more information at our fingertips our reality is becoming more augmented then we might think. For instance, my phone has a web browser built into it and an Internet connection that would’ve cost most companies thousands of dollars a decade ago. Right now if someone asks me a question that I have no idea about a quick trip to Wikipedia has the general information about the topic at hand almost instantly. Additionally back when I had a Windows Mobile phone (Which I managed to lose, but that’s another story!) I used to subscribe to RSS feeds that would be updated every hour. This meant that I had up to date information on various topics that interested me in my pocket at all times. If I was out at lunch I’d merely scroll through the newest items and I’d always be up to date on the latest.
But even this “pull” side of augmented reality is only one part of it. When I was down in Melbourne visiting one of my friends he happened to tell me about these new shoes that he got. It seems that Nike had gotten together with Apple to produce what basically amounted to a pedometer that was embedded in the shoes and was capable of recording statistics whilst you were jogging. He was partly doing this because his work had a sponsored health campaign, and they were all uploading their stats to a website to see how they were all going. As much as I hate the term “Web 2.0” it’s very much that, putting the users in charge of generating content that is of interest to everyone.
So where is all this technology going? Back in 2004 a university project in Singapore spawned a real world Pacman, using GPS and a complex overlay of the real world. Whilst this is more of a gimmick it did show the potential of using many disparate forms of technology to augment and enhance our view of the world. One of the coolest apps, which also demonstrates the power of Open Development Platforms, is Wikitude AR Travel Guide for the HTC G1 Android mobile phone:
What I like about this app is that it is a consumer level application. It’s designed for your everyday user to be able to download and use without having to think about it. As the Android platform matures I’m sure we’ll start to see many more implementations of applications like this and I for one, can’t wait.
It’s almost enough for me to break out Visual Studio and start coding again……