Ok, Glass!
On a sunny Saturday morning in February 2014, Robbie and Stephanie traveled to hippy-ville Venice, CA to pick up the coveted and sought-after Google Glass. We initially had trouble finding the building where we were supposed to pick it up, as there were no signs of “Google” anywhere. All that sat there was a somewhat-out-of-place modern building of reflective metallic and grey colors.  Before entering, a security guard immediately stopped us and asked for the reason we were present. After stating it was for Google Glass, he allowed us to enter, upon which we were greeted by a few Glass Guides (customer service, if you will). They led us up to the Google Glass fitting room, where other Explorers were being trained and shown how to use their new Glass. As we tried a pair on and were taught some of its basic functions, we thought it was a good opportunity to ask some questions about the product and the company. However, as we asked questions concerning the direction of the Glass project, the Guide referred us to “press.google.com,” as she could not disclose detailed information about the product beyond helping people try it on and learn how to use it. Instead, we presented our argument that Google Glass was an augmented reality device, but the Guide was quick to refute that statement; she said that, instead, “Glass was getting tech out of the way. It does not take over the face. It does not want to distract the user. And it is not in the hands like a phone would be.”
After such an intriguing and unexpected introduction to Glass, we questioned whether “the world through Glass” was truly as revolutionary as it seemed. Is Glass really the future of augmented reality? 
 What is Google Glass?

Google Glass is a wearable computer with a head-mounted display being developed by Google. It displays information in a hands-free format that communicates with the Internet via wifi connection (similarly to a smartphone) by using natural voice commands. For example, users navigate through the features Glass has to offer with the simple repetition of “Ok, Glass.” A touchpad located on the side of Glass also allows users to manually control the device by swiping through a timeline-like interface displayed on the screen. Glass has the ability to take photos and record 720p HD video. It also provides turn-by-turn directions, access to email, web searches, video calls (in conjunction with a phone), and translation of text in the real-world. Glass applications are free applications built by third-party developers. Glass also uses many existing Google applications, such as Google Now, Google Maps, Google+, and Gmail.

What do we mean by the term augmented reality? In “How Augmented Reality Really Works,” Kevin Bosner describes augmented reality (AR) as the idea of being able to “place computer-generated graphics in your field of vision.” A more in-depth description explains augmented reality as the ability to display a computer-generated system over your environment (in real-time) that manipulates your senses; for example, overlaying your field of vision with graphic display, audio, and other sense enhancements (Bosner). In general, Bosner also sees AR as a mediated digital device, as it has become a crucial component in other popular forms of technological devices, particularly video games, apps and cell phones. There are two types of AR technologies: “location-based AR” and “image-based AR.” These two forms are distinguishable based on the way that the virtual layer is manipulated in the environment (Vogt, Shingles). In location-based AR, “applications rely on the spatial position and orientation of the device to select and display location-relevant information.”

For image-based AR, “applications use image recognition algorithms to trigger the display of relevant content over a recognized physical pattern” (Vogt, Shingles).

There have been devices dating back to 1957, such as the Sensorama by Morton Helig that “blew wind at you, vibrated the seat you sat on, played sounds to your ears and projected a form of a stereoscopic 3D environment to the front and sides of your head” (Sung).  It was not until the year 1992 that the term augmented reality was understood as a concept that referred to a device intended to manipulate the user’s environment in real time. Several other wearable computer devices that have developed in the past couple of decades have similar functions and design comparable to Google Glass.

In 2009, Pranav Mistry presented a compelling Ted Talk on the thrilling potential of SixthSense technology. He was interested in how we, as humans, can interact with the digital world to leverage our knowledge about everyday objects. He argued that “we humans are not interested in computing, but what we are interested in is information. We want to know about things; we want to know about dynamic things going around” (Mistry). He had a drive to remove the confines of technology in small mobile devices and apply it to everyday objects instead. He eventually created a device with a camera worn on the body and sensors worn on the fingers that allows for an augmented environment and interaction with these objects digitally. He introduced this idea of merging the digital world with the physical world that he calls SixthSense technology.

Another example of such augmented reality devices is the META Space Glasses. As seen in the video, the META glasses allow the user to create and manipulate reality. We would like to distinguish these AR devices because they allow the user to actually digitally manipulate and interact with the physical environment. Even though these products are less well known to the common population than Google’s products, there is no denying that people rave at the idea of wearable technology that allows you to interact with your environment. The common curiosity we share to digitally manipulate and interact with our environments cause people to interpret Glass as a device that brings the digital and physical world closer. But does Glass truly bring the digital and physical world closer? Google Glass rests on the idea of having information easily accessible, with a limited ability to actually manipulate your environment digitally.

While the fact that you can easily maneuver the real world through a device that is mounted on your head as eyeglasses is quite compelling, we believe the information displayed through the small transparent screen merely mimics user interface. Glass’ capabilities do not manipulate the environment as a true AR device would. In fact, when compared to other devices that were modeled around the concept of augmented reality, Google Glass allows the typical functions of mobile devices (smartphones) but worn on the face for a hands-free experience. 
Corporate Ownership 

How did Google Glass come to be perceived as augmented reality? Although Google Glass is very impressive, after much thought, Glass really is not as revolutionary as people have purported it to be. Concepts of augmented reality devices have been floating around for decades, and many actual AR devices have also been developed with the advancement of technology. So where does this craze about Google Glass as an AR device come from, especially if Google itself argues that it is not an AR device?  Well, it came from Google itself.  

In its 12 years of existence, Google, Inc. has revolutionized the way the Internet is used. Now Google, whose primary mission is to organize the world’s information, has expanded into every facet of our lives. From mobile phones, to televisions, to searchable health records and electricity production, it has a presence in each of these areas and more. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two engineers who met in 1995 at Stanford University as PhD students, are the masterminds behind Google (Magder). Along with its search engine, Google came to be known as a company of innovation led by engineers. Products like Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Books, Maps, Street View, and its participation in the mobile phone market (Android) have become tremendously popular and helped further the Google brand. As evident from products like Glass, Google does have an impressive ability to develop new products.

  In particular, Google X is the division within Google that is devoted to such innovation. Although a low-profile research lab, it is home to Google’s self-driving car initiative, Loon Project, Glass, and many other projects. The engineers and scientists who work there describe it as an ongoing effort for “moonshots, those million-to-one scientific bets that require generous amounts of capital, massive leaps of faith, and a willingness to break things” (Stone).  Eric Teller eventually took over as primary manager of X—“He compares Google X to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, a magical workshop that needs to be insulated from the world’s judgmental eyes” (Stone). His sky-is-the-limit way of thinking is reflected in some of Google’s X’s most visible exports, like Google Glass.

All these reasons are why Glass appears so revolutionary, when really, it assists the user in a hands-free way, but does not have any more capabilities than a modern cell phone.  And it seems, according to our visit, that Google isn’t trying to change the user’s reality. Google Glass still faces various challenges in attempting to ease the way in which information and features are delivered, which is one reason why Glass has not yet reached a point of mass production. Though this is rapidly changing, in an article found on the LA Times website, a spokesman for Google stated the next phase in the evolution of Glass, is that “we move toward a wider consumer launch later in 2014.” This coincides with the amount of devices now being produced and offered to the public. A few months back, people who signed up for the opportunity to be part of the Explorer Program were continuously turned down. These days, Google has been more freely accepting new applicants to be Explorers. It took a few days after submitting an application for Google to send out our invite to join the program. Google has also been in contact with various manufacturers, and recently bought various Glass patents from Taiwanese industrial giant Foxconn (TIME Magazine). Interestingly, the device will reportedly be produced in California, and perhaps Texas and Indiana where Foxconn already operates.Foxconn is already involved with manufacturing several products, such as BlackBerry, Ipad, Iphone, Ipod, Kindle, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Wii, and Wii U (Wikipedia).  They are a multinational presence in the world of manufacturing technology, and assemble around 40 percent of all consumer electronics products sold (Wikipedia).

During our visit we asked about Google’s goals of bringing Glass to the mass market, but our Guide was quick to refute this, by saying that the goal is not to sell or make it available to the masses. Rather, she asserted that Glass remains a research project and emphasized the fact that the reason Glass is so expensive ($1,500), is because it is extremely exclusive to Explorers, and Google is in no rush to commercialize it on a wide scale. We found this confusing because 1) This statement is contradicted by the Google spokesperson who announced the consumer launch later this year. 2) There is possible evidence that retail stores may be being built on barges seen coming into the San Francisco Bay (Newman). 3) There is evidence of preparatory steps for mass availability, including the increasing Explorer Program invitations and the partnership with Foxconn to produce chips. Not only were the guides very restrictive in the amount of information they could give, they were very quick to dispute many widely believed speculations of the commercialization of Glass and ideas of augmented reality, even though official statements from Google executives have stated otherwise.

Google Glass was X’s second project, created by Babak Parviz, professor at the University of Washington, who was working on wearable computers (Stone).  According to Teller, projects like Google Glass are not to be judged by financial return, but instead by the progress they make toward cleaner energy or wiring the world: “We should be focused on making the world a better place, and once we do that, the money will come back and find us” (Stone). This seems idealistic and humanitarian of him, but begs the question as to why Google Glass continues to be sold for a whopping $1,500 over a year since the launch of its Explorer Program.  

This leads to our three main reasons why Glass has a reputation as a revolutionary AR device:

1) It is perceived as new, exciting technology consistent with the concept of augmented reality.  Applications such as Google Maps, Translation and games hint at augmented reality, but ultimately these are functions of common mobile devices.

2) Google’s enormous marketing funds and techniques, in combination with the intended exclusive image of the product through their Explorer Program. The marketing campaigns for Glass make it seem exclusive and for the elite, which in turn makes Glass sought after by all.

3) Google’s reputation of being highly innovative and a leader in Internet technology.  Additionally, Google X’s innovative image makes it seem state of the art, novel, and exciting. 

 Sergey Brin speaks on Google X.
Cultural Impact 
 Potential Uses

Although Glass may not be an AR device, there are still many potential advancements it could bring to different industries. To start, it could completely revolutionize the way supply chains operate. With the right application installed, the managers of a factory could look around shipment centers using Glass to identify exactly what is in each container.  It could also be used to track packages within warehouses, complete with directions to find that package. This would lead to more effectiveness and efficiency in the supply chain which leads to less time and more profit (Morley).

Another industry Glass is suspected to impact is the medical realm. Doctors and nurses can have the ability to look up a patient’s entire medical history and look at it through Glass, which can speed up processing patient information, or provide helpful information during surgery. They can also use it as an assistive tool during surgery. Although all the kinks have not been worked out in this field, it is obvious that with technology becoming more and more integrated into every aspect of our lives, it only makes sense that the medical industry will continue to change and grow with new developments such as Glass (ScienceRoll).

If Glass becomes a part of everyday life, then the way we live now will be transformed. Online courses can be vastly different, as students can potentially arrive on campus virtually. Requirements will change; if Glass can translate everything for us, why would we need to learn a new language?

As Glass becomes more mainstream and available to the public, who knows what social apps will be developed for it. There is already an app being developed called “Sex with Glass” that will make controls for lighting, music, lessons and video recording available on Glass while you are having sex (The Huffington Post). While this may sound like augmenting reality, in actuality it is just making everyday life easier and eliminating interaction with several devices to achieve the same result.

Our Desire

As the prefigurations section highlighted, the desire to have a future society that is fully integrated with technology of some kind has been in development for years. And the desire to have a Glass type device- a head-mounted “screen” that provides extra data than one can gather with the senses or existing knowledge- has been explored in the media and arts for decades: Robocop, Star Trek, Ironman, etc. Google Glass quenches the thirst for an augmented reality that has only been dreamed of in the past. It is a deliberate move toward a future where “data is visual, it's always there, and it's available as, and when [we] want it” (CNET). Although smart phones do exist, which allow us to access data and knowledge, what sets Glass apart is its hands-free technology. In the Ted Leaks by Google Glass maker Sergey Brin, Brin says that one of the founding vision behind the production and design of Google Glass is to create a world where social interactions do not take place with our heads down half the time (while looking at our phone) (TED Leaks). With Glass, you no longer have to be reminded that the data you are receiving has to be keyed up, or that the virtual world you play games on is separate from your own. With its voice command, it feels as though you only have to want something to happen, and it will. And when you do have to touch Glass, the physical action is suspiciously reminiscent of Professor X from X-Men using his super power of telepathy and mind control. While we may not have control of reality like with an AR device, it definitely seems like we are controlling our information flow.

Information Flow

Thus far we have looked at what Glass means in a social and mental sense. However, we have not yet looked at how the continuing desire to augment our reality can affect our idea of a digitized and immaterial world. In class, we often speak of the mentality that many people have about the internet being an immaterial thing that floats around in the sky. Words like ‘The Cloud’ help to strengthen this illusion, and so will devices such as Glass. When information is literally appearing before our eyes with no evidence of the physical reality of cables and data centers, the concern for how information is transported to Glass will likely fade away. In fact, major changes in the physical presence of the internet are already occurring. Earlier, we mentioned a Loon project to“ provide internet for all,” that is being developed by Google X. The project will use balloons made of polyethylene plastic to float around and pick up signals from antennae attached to them (Loon Website). While the tagline of providing internet for all sounds like a wonderful concept, the idea of a balloon floating in air still ignores the tubes and wires that are on the ground. A device like Glass will work perfectly with the Loon Project, as it will enlarge the marketplace for Glass consumers (internet anywhere means Glass can work everywhere), and also make it easier to ignore the fact that the internet is a physical construction that does not just float in the air- because now the internet will literally be floating in the air! But what consumers will not pay attention to, is that more internet coverage will means more wires running through the earth and crisscrossing the oceans (Blum).

Personal Experience
 Having been granted the opportunity to be part of the Google Glass Explorer program, we have been able to use the device and experience its limitations and the extent to which it may or may not ‘augment’ our realities as speculated. Devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops use the development of “apps” to deliver various needs in a quicker and simplified form to our society; Google Glass is no different. This device allows for the same tools that are accessible from the various devices out in the market. However, Glass delivers this reproduction of commonly used application and features in wearable form. In doing so, it facilitates actions such as taking pictures and “googling” by being less intrusive than a smartphone or tablet. With these devices one must carry it around or pull it out a bag , but glass is a device that is wearable at all times. The ability to translate a sign in front of you into any language or to have a first-person perspective for video taping feels very empowering. Omniscience seems to get closer and closer every day, and Google Glass is a very large step in that direction.

Glass presents many upsides, but, like most things, it has its downfalls as well.  From a personal standpoint, we’ve agreed that wearing Glass just makes the wearer look pompous and, to use a new term, like a “Glasshole.”  This may be because of the novelty of them and the fact that most people haven’t experienced them yet, but there is also the argument that if you actually wear Glass on a day-to-day basis, you feel like you’re above everyone else. Glass allows you to be smarter, with much less effort. They can almost turn you into a superhuman or Godlike.  Google itself has even recognized this and made a “Do’s and Dont’s” Guide for Explorers.  The company that makes Glass even realizes that there is a time and place for the technology; it is not intended to be used every second of every day. The Godlike ability it gives to the wearers has the potential to cut the user off from the rest of the world, either out of arrogance, or complete fascination with Glass that nothing around him or her matters anymore.  The world is progressing extremely rapidly, so it’s important that society keeps itself in check and does not become so absorbed in technology that it misses the world around it.  As with most things, balance is key.

Despite the lack of transparency about Google Glass and its future, the evolution of this device continues. Just like many tech giants, Google has now given access to the software platform inside Glass. By doing so, many new applications will continue to be developed, and create a device that may one day augment our reality to new heights. Other companies have started their own production of similar devices (at a much more reasonable cost). The demand for this wearable technology could increase, and competition will be fierce creating a possibility for production to go overseas in order to reduce cost. The demand isn’t there yet, but  don’t be surprised when you're walking around, and people are wandering off staring into a strange pair of glasses asking it record a video, translate a sign, or play a game- and look completely silly doing it,  which is exactly how we felt when using them.  


We first started out thinking we were going to delve into the fascination and excitement about why Google Glass is a great product. So we began researching about its basic functions, about the company, and it’s marketing initiatives. However, we then began to change our direction of the narrative. We decided to be more investigative and dive more into something more interesting about Google Glass that people didn’t already know. Our first argument was going to be that Glass was an augmented reality device and the reason why it has become so sought after is because a common desire that we all share for manipulating our environment. This still stands true, but the more and more we investigated Glass and went to the office to talk to Google about it, the more we realized that it was a product that was basically a hands-free phone with a few attributes that could be associated to augmented reality. Therefore, we decided to argue the controversial viewpoint that Glass is not truly an augmented reality device. We wanted the scroll to read like a story so people could follow our journey to discover what Glass really meant to us, and what we think it means for the future. Thus, we began research to define augmented reality devices and distinguish them from a device like Glass.

While we were working diligently on putting together a narrative that would reflect our final argument, we also were working with Scrollkit. Our group was the first to experiment with the platform, and we discovered that it is not nearly as simple as it seems. First, the platform itself still has some glitches, and thus changes are not always saved. Sometimes Scrollkit does not work on a Mac Computer, sometimes it only works on Chrome, etc. If multiple people are editing the Scrollkit at the same time, then changes are often not saved. Yet another problem is that, depending on which computer you look at, sometimes part of the Scrollkit gets cut off. However, there is no denying that the multimedia method of telling a story has a high aesthetic appeal.

We decided to use images for a lot of our background to evoke the idea of “looking at the world through Glass,” as our Glass tagline proclaims. All of our background images are fitted to the topic of the section, or impart extra knowledge about the section. For example, our second panel features a background of Jacqueline saying ‘Ok, Glass” while clouds float behind her, to evoke the free immaterial feeling of the technology. Our personal experience section is a photo that Robbie made, of trees visible through Glass to reflect what we thought while “looking through Glass.” We also decided to upload videos and moving images of our personal experience with Glass so that the audience could try and experience it, too. Throughout the process of creating the scrollkit and narrative, we wanted to make sure that an audience who has not experienced Glass could still understand what it was like to wear it.

In the end, the majority of the work was split in this way:

Stephanie: Intro, What is Google Glass, Prefigurations, Corporate Ownership, editing, went to Google office

Renee: Cultural Impact, About Section, editing, and smoothing out for writing consistency

Robbie: Much of the Scrollkit prototype and experimentation, purchased/experienced Google Glass, went to Google office, Personal Opinions

Jacqueline: Cultural Impact, Personal Opinions, editing

Sammy: Prefigurations, research on supply chain, Scrollkit drafting, multimedia

However, we all respectively contributed to creating the actual Scrollkit and finding images, researching each sub-topic, finding sources/media, and discussing our ideas. We also all spent time together trying out Google Glass and experimenting with it, which fostered much more discussion. Overall, it was an interesting and challenging process, but we learned a lot!

 Published on 3/11/14