The much-mocked wearable computer, refashioned as an aid for factory workers, is the latest success born of a commercial flop
Remember Google Glass? It was the name coined for spectacles developed by Google’s (now Alphabet’s) X division (the company’s intellectual sandpit in which engineers develop way-out ideas). Looking at first sight like a cheap pair of non-prescription reading glasses, Glass functioned as a kind of miniature head-up display (a transparent screen that allows users to read data without having to change their viewpoint). Over part of the right-hand lens was a small rectangular block of glass which functioned as a miniature computer monitor. Inside the right-hand support (the part that goes over your ear) Google had packed memory, a processor, a camera, speaker and microphone, Bluetooth and wifi antennas, an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass and a battery. So when you put on your spectacles you were, in fact, donning a tiny wearable computer.
Glass was first announced in 2012 and made available (for $1,500) to select early adopters (dubbed “Glass explorers”) in 2013. It went on sale to the general public in May 2014. In technical terms, it was an amazing piece of miniaturisation. Driven by voice commands, it had quite impressive functionality. You could tell it to take a photograph, for example, or record a video of what you were looking at. Similarly, you could call up a Google search about something you were looking at and have the results displayed in surprisingly readable form on the tiny screen – which appeared to be suspended some distance ahead of you in space. In that sense, Glass looked like the realisation of a dream that early tech visionaries like Douglas Engelbart had – of technology that could usefully augment human capabilities with computing power.