Marc Levoy with Google Glass (Credit: Chris Chabot)
Sergey Brin with Google Glass and a Canon 5D MKIII (Credit: Chris Chabot)
An image taken by Sergey Brin with the Google Glass during a walk and shoot with journalists
With the Google Glass – yes we definitely hit the jackpot on this one (Credit: Ofir Iluz)
The following is a combination journalistic audacity, a keen eye and some dumb luck. During photokina 2012 – the largest photography expo in the world which ended last week in Germany – we had an interesting encounter with a man wearing a strange set of glasses walking towards the expo’s exit. A closer inspection confirmed our initial suspicion – it was the “Glass” – Google’s innovative smart eyepiece which is still in relatively early stages of development. For what happened next – keep reading.
On the fourth day of photokina in one of the never ending halls leading to the main entrance, a strange looking pair of glasses caught our attention on one the many attendants leaving the expo. Without thinking too much we ran towards the unsuspecting stranger and asked without even introducing ourselves: "are you wearing the Google Glass"? surprised by the situations and even more so by the fact that somebody recognized the device he was wearing, the stranger confirmed that he is indeed wearing the Glass.
It’s worth noting that during the same time hundreds of people were passing us in the extremely busy hallways of the expo, all more or less oblivious to the unique eyewear and the person wearing it. From the reaction of our new acquaintance, it seems that this was not the sort of response he was getting too often. Although the Glass project was revealed back in April and Sergey Brin had some very publicized walk around with reporters showing some of the capabilities of the future device, it is still very much an an R&D project and not a commercial product and relatively few people know much about it let alone used it outside of Google.
Back to photokina and to our encounter, and after a minute or two we discovered that the stranger standing in front of us wearing the Glass goggles is actually named Marc Levoy. A quick search in Google later on helped us discover that Mr. Levoy is actually A Stanford Professor of computer science who is on a year of absence from the university to pursue a project for no other than… Google of course (we didn’t ask which project and he didn’t tell). Professor Levoy actually worked with Google on a few very important projects in the past, some of them are probably familiar to many of you including [being a co-designer of] the Google book scanner and he apparently had more than a hand in the development of Google’s Street View project (which is a huge success and we actually used it ourselves during our time in Germany).
We had a quick conversation and after we took his picture wearing the Glass we asked naively if we can use it (we actually meant the image we took – which eventually didn’t turn out very well so we used the one photographer and Google employee Chris Chabot took that you can see above – he also shot Sergey Brin’s pictures with the Glass which you can see below). Initially Professor Levoy mumbled something about getting permission from Google PR but a few seconds later he remembered that Google actually had a new policy regarding the Glass and a moment later – and to our great surprise – we found ourselves wearing the Glass (apparently he was though we were asking if we can use them and not his picture – a fair assumption giving our initial audacity in approaching him).
It might be pushing it a bit to talk about our "experience" with the Glass. After all we had them on for only a few brief moments, but we can say a few things:
The Glass feels extremely light (ironically it has no glass at all just a frame with a tiny display on the upper right corner).
The quality of the display in the current prototype we used was rather low (we even remember some flickering) – this is probably for reducing the power consumption as much as possible – we can only guess that the final version will have a much better display.
The display did not interfere with our field of vision and we only noticed it when looking up and to the right. It displayed small icons which did not resemble any known OS (i.e. Android or anything of that sort).
An invisible touch surface appears on the right side of the frame and acts as a controller. We didn’t use it but Marc briefly touch it when we had the Glass on and the icons moved.
Despite its slim design and almost no weight, the Glass prototype apparently has wireless capabilities (probably WIFI not 3G) and even before we got to put it on, Marc took a picture of us and sent it online (we wouldn’t have notice it unless he told us) – how is that for an immediate connected photography experience?
More than we were impressed with the prototype that we used briefly (it’s still about a year or so from reaching the market according to Google, so it’s completely understandable), we were actually taken with the vision behind Glass. It’s one thing to read about it or see a video of someone supposedly using them, but it’s something completely different to have it on and see a person in front of you take your picture and send it online without you even being aware of it (for better or worse).
Someone supposedly using Glass (the vision behind project Glass from April 2012)
Glass is a revolution. It’s hard to say at this point if the first commercial version will be a success. To be really useful a lot of work will have to go into designing a UI which will be simple, fast and intuitive to use with a small screen and very limited control – not a simple task even for a giant like Google. However in a time where we see Google focusing on what it sees as its core businesses (closing down less popular services), it seems that Glass is being pushed forward hard.
This should not come as a surprise to anybody – Glass has the potential to change the way we take pictures and videos (it might not replace a pro camera, but it certainly can replace your mobile phone camera and maybe even your compact camera). Of course Glass is much more than that – it’s an augmented reality device which can add a digital layer of reality on top of what we see, adding a lot of useful info from GPS navigation to comparing prices of products we see in a shop online in real time and even getting info on people we meet from the web at the moment we see them.
There will be a lot of technical hurdles to go through as well as social and maybe even legal ones before Glass and similar technologies become a part of our lives, but one thing we know for sure – we would like to shoot and broadcast live from photokina 2014 with a commercial version of Glass.
Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.