Technology is a big part of our life and something we as humans adapt to easily. We have come to accept that life lived through computer systems is natural. Gadgets and other electronic devices not only help us with our every day lives but they connect us to each other in ways we couldn't even have imagined a few years ago. Technology has become coexistent with our reality and we have created new realities inside these machines. We represent ourselves online.
We create new lives that can take their own course. Online reality is becoming, more and more, our lived reality. Every new technology is bringing us closer to a life that is more and more lived digitally. Twenty years ago, none could have even dreamed of the possibilities of personal smart phones or tablet device. Our lives are constantly being changed by connection with newer technologies. Using new NFC-based smart phones, we will be able to pay without ever touching our wallets. There are devices that tell us what to wear or what’s the weather will be like and all we need to do is ask.
With the speed of progress over the last fiver years, can we imagine how things will look like ten years from now? How is technology going to shape our reality? Will it be through more advanced forms of the digital reality we have created? How are we going to interact with our world? More and more technological companies understand that their survival in the market depends on innovation. Technological changes are coming quickly and their response to those changes must be swift. So how is the biggest search company in the world handling change?
Google has proved again and again that it can enter an already overcrowded market and bring something new to it. What can this tell us about brand new technologies being developed within Google itself? Is the search giant ready to show us the future? What emerging technologies will impress potential customers? On January 9th 2007, Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, unveiled new mobile smart phone to the world – almost overnight it changed our view on how the mobile phone should look and behave. Its success had a major influence on many technology companies.
Apple showed that product innovation really leads to market success – you can be the first to do something entirely new and dominate the market with it. This essay will look at Google’s attempt to create ‘the new smart phone’ – to impress world with its view on where the future is headed to and to use this new technology to change the marketplace and change Google.
Augmented reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect, view of the real-world environment, with elements augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data (Wikipedia).
AR basically has the ability to add or subtract information from one's perception of reality, through use of wearable computer. Unlike virtual reality, where user is completely immersed inside a synthetic environment, AR allows the user to see and engage with the real world, with virtual objects added on top of it. AR is about supplementing reality, not replacing it. It can be used to not just add virtual objects to a user’s view but to remove them as well. There are two different design approaches to building an AR system. Optical or video technologies can be used for AR systems.
Optical, or ‘see-though’ AR works by placing optical combiners before the user’s eye. These partially reflect light and project images, so the user sees combined images of the real environment and the virtual one. This technology is commonly used in military aircrafts, where combiners are attached to the pilot’s helmet. The second type is video, where users don't need to wear any monitors that project AR but where the monitors are fixed or the image is projected in front of the user. The main hardware behind AR are processors, display, ensors and input devices such as accelerometers, GPS and solid-state compasses. AR can be mixed with other senses like touch to provide tactile feedback or sound to enhance the sense of reality. Google is not the first consumer-focused company to research and develop AR. Many others are already pioneering this technology. Gaming companies like Sony and Nintendo are already using AR in their handheld devices. Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS already come with "AR" cards allowing gamers to play games using device cameras to focus on real-life cards.
Modern mobile phones have similar uses of AR. Companies like Layar and Yelp use augment reality (with the help of GPS compasses and connection to the internet) to display information that surrounds the user and is viewable through smartphone displays. The user’s mobile phone displays real world images, scanned through the device's camera, with added information on its display. For example, Yelp gives information about nearby restaurants and bars, which is overplayed on top of a real-world image. The disadvantage of using AR with handheld devices are its physical constrains.
Users have to hold the handheld device in front of them and its view is limited to the handheld’s display. A more promising use of AR is shown by spatial augmented reality (SAR). In 1998, Professor Ramesh Raskar developed Shader lamps, which project imagery onto neutral objects enhancing the object’s appearance using camera, projector and sensors. Raskar in his workshop showed how his device can operate within standard environment. The user is not required to wear the display over their eyes, instead a miniature projector, worn by user, projects the imagery onto flat surface in front of him.
The device includes a camera that captures real world images. Sensors in the camera record users gestures and software interprets their meaning. Examples of its use include users taking real-world screenshots just by making simple gestures, camera pointing at products to scan their barcodes, software then searches for products online and shows users more information about the chosen product. Users can annotate real world objects, get real time information about people and services via an internet connection and more.
At CES 2012, company Innovega introduced AR-based contact lenses with special filtering systems that allow human eyes to focus on the image projected close to the eye. Normally, the human eye cannot focus on images at this close range but with Innovega's contact lens the image becomes easier to focus on. Without these contact lenses, human eyes would have to be constantly scanned by the AR device and display would have to dynamically adjust focus, which would require additional hardware to read eye movements.
What Innovega is attempting to achieve is to eliminate dynamic focus and try to replace it with a clever filtering system through the contact lens. Innovega is already working on the device that will project images on spectacles worn in front of the eye of the user, with wide field of view and very high resolution. These are just few examples of different companies trying to get the best of AR. But dynamic is still the key word to describe the level of innovation. None of these companies has yet produced a final product that would be available to masses. Nor has the best resourced of them – Google.
Google's Project Glass
On 4th April 2012, on Google's social network Google plus, the search engine giant showed what it thinks new smart phones should look like – called ‘Glass’ it is a small, wearable device, which uses AR as its interface with the user. The concept video on Glass shows us how Google thinks AR would work in real life (https://plus. google. com/111626127367496192147/posts) and concept photos show a wearable device that look identical to standard glasses. The video demonstrates how users of the device can interact with Google's already existing services like Google Maps, Google Music, Google+ Hangouts and more.
Google has created a good ecosystem of apps and services and Android, the smartphone operating system developed by Google, uses most of these services successfully today. All of them are greatly integrated for a seamless experience to provide as much information to its user as is required. This environment of apps and services should be integrated into Glass as well, as Google's concept video suggests. But services and apps are only one side of the coin. Gestures and voice control plays important role in controlling this device. Glass should intelligently recognise not just voice commands, but phrases as well.
Apple's personal assistant Siri is a great example of the direction Google and Glass should be headed to. But even Siri is far from perfect. It requires constant connection with its servers to interpret the voice commands, it recognises basic phrases but it doesn't follow conversation, as Apple commercials suggest, and commands spoken with heavy accents are not recognised as they should. This is of course because this technology is just evolving and anyone in contact with voice recognition software can confirm that is far from perfect.
What Google demonstrates in its concept video is a device that can not only recognise phrases but recognise different meanings to voice commands and, apparently, follow conversation as well. With device like Glass, there is no keyboard attached, so sending text messages, emails, taking pictures, getting directions – all the basic functionalities of modern smartphones – need to be interpreted differently. Another interesting concept is control of the device through gestures. The concept video introduces a simple user interface.
It is hidden from the user, unless he performs a gesture or the device detects a particular head movement. In November 2001, Microsoft officially launched their gaming console Xbox and knowingly entered highly competitive market. They shifted from being solely a professional software company to the hardware and gaming market. Xbox was and today is hugely successful and shows how a technology company can focus not only on software but on hardware as well. Xbox Kinect, the gesture controller for Xbox 360 (second generation Xbox) was launched more recently and proved a huge success as well.
Microsoft successfully merged a popular gaming console with effortless gesture and voice command controls. In the world of Nintendo Wii (another gesture-controlled gaming console) this was a natural step to compete in the gaming market. With project Glass, Google have to perfect gesture recognition and offer it in a much smaller device than Microsoft's Kinect. Can this be done? Or is Google creating a level of over expectation that their hardware cannot live up to? There are still major hardware and software limitations to this degree of augmented reality devices.
GPS is currently accurate only within 30 feet from the device and doesn't work well indoors. The display that provides visual feedback needs to filter just enough light for the user to see the environment behind it, but enough to actually merge virtual and real environment together. The brightness difference between indoors and outdoors is still a big problem. No display made to date can handle transition from different environments as Project Glass's concept video demonstrates, and there is still issue with human eye focusing on image placed close to it. Glass is akin to a concept car, but not like those commercially ludicrous models automakers show off annually just to demonstrate how impossibly blue the sky can be. Glass would be a new prism through which we would filter every aspect of our lives — just as the smartphone went from zero to always on. ’ (John C Abell / Wired. com 2012) Microsoft's Xbox revenue is 14% of its whole earnings to this day and growing. If Google invests its huge resources to develop a device like Glass, can it generate similar revenue? Google started as a internet search company, and from search giant, it transformed itself into advertising provider.
Using AdWords and AdSense technology, Google can target particular groups of people who are more willing to respond to an advertisement. Advertisers can submit ads and include lists of keywords relating to the product. When users search the web using keywords provided, Google displays ads as a part of the search result and advertisers pay for every time user clicks on the ad. With AdSense, web masters can integrate Google ads directly on their websites. Google would naturally want to integrate this technology to Glass as well.
With wearable computers, users would expose their every day lives and provide huge amount of valuable information about themselves for advertising purposes. Google would get access to information like, where users live, which bars or restaurants they like or which products they usually buy. Glass could record all of this and more, which would, of course, represent huge privacy invasion for many of us. What about ads themselves? How would Google integrate an ad system into wearable device? AR should provide more efficient ways to stream information.
No spam emails or ads flashing right in front of your eyes. No unnecessary information about companies, products and services. It should automatically get ads, as required information, when it is actually needed, and when the user requires it, for example information about nearby restaurants, bars or products that interest the user of the device. It should be there to help whenever it’s needed. With Glass Google could change its advertising strategy from gathering and offering ads to providing useful info thought AR much as Yelp provides today but on much bigger scale.
Scientists working on Project Glass, Babak Parviz, Steve Lee and Sebastian Thurn remind us that this project is just the beginning of a long journey and many things may change in the course of its development. This device is still only an idea, and won't be ready for general release for at least two years. But even concepts can show us how companies, not only Google, can change themselves, adapt to the new technologies and how this change can benefit their future growth.
It's still early to talk about success or failure of Project Glass.
We do not know if Google can successfully develop a device that would meet our expectations. With AR devices like Glass, we could certainly get information about our environment more ‘naturally’ but we will have to exchange our sense of privacy for it. Google has great potential to unlock new revenue streams and, if done right, this may be next step of computing devices that could change our view of reality and maybe next game-changing device that will change Google as well.
Spatially Augmented Reality, Ramesh Raskar, Greg Welch, Henry Fuchs (1999)
A Survey of Augmented Reality, Ronald T. Azuma, 1997
How Google Works, Jonathan Strickland (http://computer. howstuffworks. com/internet/basics/google4. htm/printable / 2012)
Wearable Computing Will Soon Intensify The Platform Wars, Frederic Lardinois, 2012
Google Glasses Face Serious Hurdles, Augmented-Reality Experts Say, Roberto Baldwin, 2012 (http://www. wired. com/gadgetlab/2012/04/augmented-reality-experts-say-google-glasses-face-serious-hurdles/? tm_source=Contextly&utm_medium=RelatedLinks&utm_campaign=Previous)
Augmented Reality: Google’s Project Glass engineers, Bruce Sterling, 2012 (http://www. wired. com/beyond_the_beyond/2012/04/augmented-reality-googles-project-glass-engineers)
Augmented Reality’s Path From Science Fiction to Future Fact, John C Abell, 2012
Project Glass (https://plus. google. com/111626127367496192147/posts) * Augmented reality, Wikipedia (http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Augmented_reality)