Unless you shut down all your gadgets and hid yourself in a dark alley with absolutely no connection to the rest of the world, you would have heard that the Google I/O conference started on June 27. It is one of the most exciting events in the realm of tech innovation. Google came up with a couple of new devices – A 7-inch Android Jelly Bean tablet called Nexus 7 and a social media streaming device called Nexus Q. But that’s not what this blog post is about. I want to talk about the insanely cool Google Glass demo that they presented in the conference. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can see it here. This reminded all of us why we love and adore Google. The technology falls in the category of Wearable Computing. When they started it out a few years ago, it sounded very futuristic, but not anymore. It’s here and we just saw it!
What’s wearable computing?
Wearable computing refers to the technology which enables us to wear electronic devices, just like how we wear clothes. Perhaps the most common form of this technology we are all aware of is the wrist watch. It was the first widespread use of wearable computing. This technology has developed a lot and much more sophisticated devices are now being used. In many applications, this technology engages human body parts in a very seamless manner. It’s applied in the field of augmented reality, health care monitoring systems, behavior modeling and many more. A good example would be movies where the hero wears those futuristic glasses and sees a lot of information overlaid on top of the real world. It looks very easy in movies but it’s actually very difficult to make that happen in real life. That’s what we are going for here! A famous real life example would be the MIT Sixth Sense project. You can read more about it here.
What’s so special about it?
Let’s consider those futuristic glasses. It’s referred to as the heads-up display. This technology uses displays that present data without requiring the user to look away from the real world towards the device. One of the main concerns is the limited computational capacity of the on-board processor and the power available on the device. When that hero looks at a person through these glasses, the machine recognizes the person and all the information gets displayed beside that person. To do this, we need to capture the frame, segment that person from the background, extract the facial features, look it up in the database and pick out that person, pull up all the information and then overlay on top of the frame. And all this should happen almost instantaneously! You see the problem here? Each one of those things takes up time and energy.
We have limited space on this gadget. It means that we will have limited computational power on the chipset being used. The processor cannot heat up because it’s so close to our eyes. Technologies like this have to be absolutely fail-safe because human life is involved! So we can neither use a big bulky processor to improve our processing speed nor we can allow the processor to run at full throttle at all times and allow it to heat up.
Why do we need it anyway?
Electronic devices are becoming more seamless. We want them to be as natural as possible. So wearable computing is the next step in this direction. To demonstrate this, consider buttons vs touchscreen. Touchscreen is just more intuitive and natural. Buttons, on the other hand, provide the same interface to every application and there is also a learning curve involved. Let’s say you are walking around wearing a heads-up display. You see something cool and you want to take a picture. You can just say “click” and your field of view will be captured. You don’t need to take the camera out of your pocket, focus at some point and then click. This is a very simple example of what this technology can achieve.
What’s Google doing?
Google is doing exactly what I described earlier. They are working on this kind of technology for the past couple of years. It’s called Project Glass. It might take some time to productize it and make it market-ready, but it’s here nonetheless. They showed a working prototype in the conference. You can read up more about it if you want. If they manage to make if affordable, then we are looking at a whole new domain of consumer electronics devices. Google is good at being cool and that’s what they should keep doing!