Google X formerly Labs founder Sebastian Thrun debuted a real-world use of his latest endeavor Project Glass during an interview on the syndicated Charlie Rose show which aired yesterday, taking a picture of the host and then posting it to Google+, the companys social network. Thrun appeared to be able to take the picture through tapping the unit, and posting it online via a pair of nods, though the project is still at the prototype stage at this point.
You may remember Sebastian Thrun the way I do. He was spotlighted a few times on the PBS TV series NOVA in their coverage of the DARPA Grand Challenge competition follow-up in 2005. That was the year that Carnegie Mellon University battled Stanford University to win in a race of driverless vehicles in the desert. The previous year CMU was the favorite to win, but their vehicle didn’t finish the race. By the following years competition, the stakes were much higher. Stanford started it’s effort that Summer 2004 just months after the March Grand Challenge race. By October 2005 the second race was held with CMU and Stanford battling it out. Sebastian Thrun was the head of the Stanford team, and had previously been at CMU and a colleague of the Carnegie race team head, Red Whittaker. In 2001 Thrun took a sabbatical year from CMU and spent it at Stanfrod. Eventually Thrun left Carnegie-Mellon altogether and moved to Stanford in July 2003.
Thrun also took a graduate student of his and Red Whittaker’s with him to Stanford, Michael Montemerlo. That combo of experience at CMU and a grad student to boot help accelerate the pace at which Stanley, the driverless vehicle was able to be developed and compete in October of 2005. Now move forward to another academic sabbatical this time from Stanford to Google Inc. Thrun took a group of students with him to work on Google Street View. Eventually this lead to another driverless car funded completely internally by Google. Thrun’s accomplishments have continued to accrue at regular intervals so much so that now Thrun has given up his tenure at Stanford to join Google as a kind of entrepreneurial research scientist helping head up the Google X Labs. The X Labs is a kind of internal skunkworks that Google funds to work on various and sundry technologies including the Google Driverless Car. Add to this Sebastian Thrun’s other big announcement this year of an open education initiative that’s titled Udacity (attempting to ‘change’ the paradigm of college education). The list as you see goes on and on.
So where does that put the Google Project Glass experiment. Sergey Brin attempted to show off a prototype of the system at a party very recently. Now Sebastian Thrun has shown it off as well. Google Project Glass is a prototype as most online websites have reported. Sebastian Thrun’s interview on Charlie Rose attempted to demo what the prototype is able to do today. It appears according to this article quoted at the top of my blogpost that Google Glass can respond to gestures, and voice (though that was not demonstrated). Questions still remain as to what is included in this package to make it all work. Yes, the glasses do appear ‘self-contained’ but then a wireless connection (as pointed out by Mashable.com) would not be visible to anyone not specifically shown all the components that make it go. That little bit of visual indirection (like a magician) would lead one to believe that everything resides in the glasses themselves. Well, so much the better then for Google to let everyone draw their own conclusions. As to the concept video of Google Glass, I’m still not convinced it’s the best way to interact with a device:
As the video shows it’s more centered on voice interaction very much like Apple’s own Siri technology. And that as you know requires two things:
1. A specific iPhone that has a noise cancelling microphone array
2. A broadband cellphone connection back to the Apple mothership data center in North Carolina to do the Speech-t0-Text recognition and responses
So it’s guaranteed that the glasses are self-contained to an untrained observer, but to do the required heavy lifting as it appears in the concept video is going to require the Google Glasses and two additional items:
1. A specific Android phone with the Google Glass spec’d microphone array and ARM chip inside
2. A broadband cellphone connection back to the Google motherships wherever they may be to do some amount of off-phone processing and obviously data retrievals for the all the Google Apps included.
It would be interesting to know what passes over that personal area network between the Google Glasses and the cellphone data uplink a real set of glasses is going to require. The devil is in those details and will be the limiting factor on how inexpensively this product could be manufactured and sold.
- Google’s Sebastian Thrun: 3 Visions in the ‘Age of Disruption’ (wired.com)
- Google Glasses Make Their First TV Appearance (gizmodo.com.au)
- How Google’s Self-Driving Car Works (spectrum.ieee.org)