Sunday, March 10, 2013

Google Glass -- why just capture reality when you can mediate and improve it?

There is a lot of hype surrounding wearable computing these days and Google Glass gets a lot of that attention with demonstrations of video and image capture and augmented reality, as shown in this video, which has been viewed over 16 million times.

But University of Toronto professor Steve Mann has been wearing electronic glasses and working with mediated reality for over 30 years. Mann differentiates between "augmented reality," where text or graphics are displayed over your normal vision and more general "mediated reality," in which vision is improved -- for example, detecting infrared radiation to see temperature differences, zooming in on distant objects, or extending the dynamic range of a photographic image by combining various exposures. He discussed these applications and more in an recent Techwise Conversations podcast interview.

Mann has pioneered mediated reality, but he is not alone in the field. For example, professor Gabby Sarusi and his colleagues at the at Ben Gurion University of the Negev are working on a nano layer coating for detecting infrared radiation in night vision goggles. Work on high dynamic range photography has also been with us for some time.

Journalists are beginning to report on initial experience with Google Glass prototypes and Google is fishing around for a killer app, but I suspect that Google Glass will turn out to be a niche product. We will not be wearing them 24-7, but some of us may put them on for special tasks -- like a surgeon entering the operating room.

That being said, research prototypes and high-value niche applications have a way of turning into ubiquitous, game-changing products, but it takes a while -- as you see in this photograph of Ivan Sutherland, inventor Sketchpad, the first object oriented computer graphics program, which he developed more than twenty years before MacDraw came out. (Ditto, any early prototype).

What about fifty years from now? Will Google Glass 2063 interface directly with the retina?