Google is making Google Glass available to everyone in the U.S., as long as supplies last. The devices being sold are clearly labeled as “beta,” meaning that not all bugs are stamped out just yet. The company said it still considers this to be part of the Glass Explorer Program, otherwise known as “beta.” It is not a full-blown consumer launch, which is expected to happen later this year. At this time Google is also limiting orders to U.S. customers only.
Being an early adopter, I ordered mine weeks ago, and it arrived yesterday. I am still learning how to use it.
Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). It displays information in a somewhat similar manner as displaying the info on your cell phone’s small screen except that this display screen is always in front of your right eye; and yet it never obstructs your view of whatever is beyond the transparent display. Glass connects to your nearby Android or iPhone cell phone by a Bluetooth connection. While the hardware is on your face, most of the software is running in your cell phone. In fact, the wearer can place and receive cell phone calls, take pictures, send and receive email, make videos, watch videos, view pictures, obtain GPS driving instructions with viewable maps, and much more, all without taking his or her eyes off the road ahead (when driving) or whatever view is in front of the wearer at the moment. Voice commands are used for most functions. There is little need to touch Google Glass.
Heads-up displays are nothing new. The U.S. Government first developed them for helicopter pilots in order to reduce the pilots’ workload. Soon after, heads-up displays were developed for jet fighter pilots who have to absorb a huge amount of information when flying tight maneuvers in a dogfight, experiencing high-G turns while trying to evade the enemy, all while trying to aim and fire missiles and guns. Pilots can now read the required information without looking down at the aircraft instruments.
Heads-up displays are now used by many. When entering a burning building, firefighters can view maps and blueprints of the building, even when their view is obscured by smoke and flames in limited visibility situations. Surgeons also use heads-up displays to look up required information or even to watch videos of similar, earlier operations. After all, it isn’t convenient for a surgeon to leave the operating room to look something up while in the middle of surgery! Likewise, the U.S. Navy provides heads-up displays to electricians for use when crawling through tight spaces on board ships and submarines, tracing the many miles of wiring where they cannot use printed wiring diagrams or blueprints. The Navy tried for a while to use microfilm, but that never worked, either; the smallest microfilm readers are still too bulky to be useful. However, a heads-up display using a wireless connection to a nearby computer works well to display the information the electricians need.
The new Google Glass combines both a heads-up display and a camera mounted in the glasses frame. The wearer can drive an automobile, view a GPS map, and listen to step-by-step driving instructions whispered in the Glass earpiece, all without taking eyes off the road. This is obviously far safer than looking at a dashboard-mounted GPS and much, much safer than the old days of folding and unfolding paper maps while cruising down the superhighway!
The use of Google Glass has become somewhat controversial although the logic behind some of these arguments escapes me. A number of myths are floating around, claiming that use of Google Glass is distracting to drivers, even though the same technology reduces distractions for fighter pilots, firefighters, and others. There are claims of invasion of privacy when using the camera although nobody seems to complain when traditional cell phone cameras do the same thing. I suspect it will take a year or two to dispel the myths as more and more of these devices become available and the general public eventually learns the truth.
The Google Glass device is very expensive at $1,500. That is for a unit that has a small “headband” but no eyeglass frame and no lenses. The basic $1,500 Glass is suitable for anyone who does not wear glasses or wears contact lenses. However, anyone who prefers glasses, such as myself, will then need to purchase special-made eyeglass frames ($200 to $250) and then visit a local optician to have lenses made to fit the frames. The cost of Glass plus eyeglass frame plus lenses can exceed $2,000. I suspect the price of Google Glass will drop radically as the technology advances although prices of eyeglass frames and lenses probably will remain about the same.
I ordered my Google Glass months ago, when Google was not promising any delivery dates. After a receipt of my order, the next communication I received from Google about the Glass was last week’s email message, telling me the device had shipped! It arrived a couple of days ago. I experimented a bit with it but found that I really needed lenses in the eyeglass frames. Wearing my regular glasses at the same time I tried to wear the Google Glass didn’t work very well.
Today, a local optical shop inserted prescription lenses. I was the most popular customer in the optical shop for a while as all the employees gathered around to see Google Glass!
I am still learning how to use Google Glass. I will write about my experiences in a couple of weeks as I learn more about it. I suspect the genealogy-related applications are limited although I believe it will be great for taking pictures of documents when in a library or archive. However, it can also retrieve documents from Evernote, the application I use to store my notes and scanned images of maps, drawings, and pictures. Reportedly, it also can take dictation although I haven’t yet learned to use that just yet.