Google AR glasses prototype
Google will test augmented reality prototypes in public environments, the company announced in a blog post on Tuesday.
Some prototypes will look like normal glasses and will be equipped with microphones and cameras as well as transparent displays.
The new glasses aren’t a product yet and aren’t available to the public, but Google wants to test apps like real-time translation or displaying user instructions in glasses, especially in environments like busy intersections.
The tests mark a significant advance in Google’s development of augmented reality, a technology that many in Silicon Valley believe could represent a major shift in computing like the smartphone and personal computer before it. Augmented Reality superimposes computer-generated imagery over the real world, as opposed to virtual reality, which completely immerses the viewer in an artificial world or “metaverse”.
By announcing plans for public testing, Google is also trying to overcome the kind of privacy concerns that helped sink Google Glass, one of the first augmented reality devices, nearly a decade ago.
Google Glass featured a front-facing camera, and critics worried users could record people without their permission. Glasses wearers were given a derogatory nickname, and in 2014 a woman who wore glasses said she was assaulted in a San Francisco bar. Finally, Google repurposed the glasses to focus on business users rather than consumers.
“It’s early days and we want to get this right, so we’re taking it slow with a strong focus on ensuring the privacy of testers and their environment,” Google product manager Juston Payne wrote in the blog post about the new product .
“These research prototypes look like regular glasses, have a display in the lens, and have audio and visual sensors like a microphone and camera,” Google said on a support page about the tests.
The device has an LED light that turns on when the glasses are recording image data. According to Google, the glasses don’t record videos or take photos that users can later save and view, but they can capture image data and use it to perform functions like identifying objects or showing directions. Testers will not wear the glasses in schools, government buildings, health care facilities, churches, protests or other sensitive areas, Google said. Testing will be conducted by “a few dozen Googlers and selected trusted testers” and will take place somewhere in the US
Google unveiled its AR glasses at its developer conference in May with a focus on translating speech in real time, allowing a person to see a translated foreign language in front of their eyes. A Google employee dubbed the glasses “closed captions for the world” during the presentation.
Google is fiercely competing with other tech giants like Apple, Meta and Microsoft to build the first next-generation augmented reality glasses. All four companies have invested billions in augmented reality software and hardware in hopes of a breakthrough that could enable a new computing platform, but current products have yet to catch on.
“The magic really comes alive when you can use it in the real world without technology getting in the way,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at the announcement.
Apple is reportedly preparing to announce a mixed reality headset as early as next year. Meta has announced an advanced mixed reality headset that supports augmented reality capabilities and will be released later this year. Microsoft’s Hololens is currently the most advanced augmented reality hardware on the market from a major technology company.