The future is here, right in front of your eyes. Literally. Our tech editors check the specs.
It's typically the stuff of sci-fi movies, but what if you could actually don a pair of augmented reality glasses and have them overlay all kinds of useful information onto your everyday life? That's the idea behind Google's Project Glass, which the company has been showing off in prototype form since last week. These glasses, which a handful of beta testers have been spotted walking around with recently, project useful bits of information right into your field of vision. For example, maps and directions laid right into the streets in front of you, or a video chat (via the built-in microphone) with someone in a tiny window off in your peripheral vision.
This exactly the kind of thing, along with flying cars and domestic robots, that sci-fi geeks have been waiting for years to get. Generations of video gamers have been raised on the idea that your space marine helmet would throw all kinds of useful information right in front of your eyes, without getting in the way, so I think we may finally be ready for this.
Okay, number one, even the prototype glasses I've seen look incredibly stupid. It's not Levar Burton in Star Trek with his big visor, but there's still a bunch of extra stuff hanging off of your eyeglasses. Two, it'll take about three seconds before some idiot walks into a telephone poll or falls down an open manhole because he's distracted by reading Facebook updates and sues everyone involved.
People already walk around all day with their noses buried in smartphones, looking up directions, texting with each other. It's a major pedestrian traffic hazard. At least this way, they're looking up and can kind of see where they're going. It certainly can't be any worse than what people are doing now. I'll admit, I share some of your skepticism. Parts of this have been tried before, but not nearly in such potentially commercially appealing hardware. Beyond that, augmented reality is already gaining ground. Both the PlayStation Move and Xbox 360 Kinect cameras can take an image of you in your living room and overlay video game characters and objects (as can the new PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS handheld consoles), and there are popular iPhone apps, such as Star Walk, that use the iPhone's camera and add real-time information on top.
And just how many of those augmented reality video games have you played more than once or twice? So far, all that stuff has just been too gimmicky to be fun. And the glasses will have to do more. What I've seen demoed so far is pretty much the same stuff you can do with your smartphone, just with more voice commands -- and we know how well that works with Siri on the iPhone. The current rumor is that these glasses might be available by the end of the year for anywhere from $250 to $600. But they'd have to do a lot of work on them for me to be interested. Either by teaming up with some major fashion eyewear brands, or at least building this into an unobtrusive set of Men In Black-style shades.
The Google Glass project has no set release date or price, but you can follow the latest on the official blog here.