Do You Want Google Goggles?

Self-portraits of Mann with wearable-computing gear from 1980s to 1990s.

Google Project Glass got a lot of buzz a couple months ago when it was first announced. The idea of real-life augmentation built into a pair of glasses showed some really interesting potential uses.

But it also highlighted general fears that augmented reality could remove it’s users from really engaging in the world — instead diving deeper into our own personalized bubble. I’ve posted about things like this before, but this recent video, “Sight” by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo, showed a pretty unpleasant vision of the world with augmented contact lenses.

So it was interesting to read You Will Want Google Goggles in Technology Review about Google’s Project Glass and what’s going on behind the scenes. The article reveals that the technical lead behind the project is Thad Starner. Starner is interesting because he’s been wearing, full-time since the early 1990, various forms of augmented reality glasses. To support his glasses he’s carried with him portable computers and various ways to input text. It’s worth a read, especially when it described what you see in his glasses:

I got to see this firsthand when Starner let me try on his glasses. It took my eye a few seconds to adjust to the display, but after that, things began to look clearer. I could see the room around me, except now, hovering off to the side, was a computer screen. Suddenly I noticed something on the screen: Starner had left open some notes that a Google public-relations rep had sent him. The notes were about me and what Starner should and should not say during the interview…

It made me really curious to see what Thad sees in his glasses. It it just a basic desktop computer? Or something optimized for glasses?

Unfortunately I didn’t find much. There’s this pic from a 1996 video interview that reveals that, at that time, his interface was emacs!

And this is the Twiddler keyboard that he sometimes uses.


But I did realize that this is a rabbit hole full of rich and fascinating history. And something to explore in future posts. For example this History of Mobile AR. And especially some of the pioneering work by Steve Mann.

I’d definitely recommend reading the great post Project Glass and the epic history of wearable computers on The Verge. It’s a great history of the long and rich research of wearable computing. As well as some popular represenations of it — such as this IBM commercial from 1999.

Stay tuned, more posts to come…