Google Glass was one of the first attempts to break away from augmented reality technology, but the product was never sold to the general public beyond the initial prototype. At the end of this year’s Google I/O keynote, Google teased a new type of glasses.
Google posted a nearly two-minute video about the potential for augmented reality to lower language barriers, through glasses that would overlay other conversations in your own native language. The video showed a normal-looking pair of glasses performing a real-time translation and displaying the results to the person wearing the glasses. Think of the Combadge from Star Trek, but on your face.
Before you get too excited, this isn’t a product announcement, or even a confirmation that Google will release AR-powered glasses anytime soon; the narration simply calls it “a prototype we’ve been working on.” Most AR glasses are also bulkier than the video product, requiring room for a processor, battery, wireless radios, and other hardware components.
Still, this is Google’s first indication in years that the company is (potentially) interested in selling smart glasses to people. The original Google Glass prototype from 2013, called the “Explorer Version”, was only intended for use by developers while Google continued to work on the hardware and software. However, the product became unpopular with the general public (mainly due to its built-in camera), and Google stopped selling Glass to individuals in 2018. Glass is now sold exclusively to businesses and other organizations for internal use: shipping company DHL said in 2015 that Glass improved order picking at its warehouses because workers didn’t need to check paper instructions or a phone while handling packages.
Although Google hasn’t released any smart glasses to the general public in years, plenty of other companies have also tried the idea. The 2019 Vuzix Blade comes pretty close to the original Google Glass concept, with an integrated display and touchpad for controls, but the reviews were harsh. The company behind Snapchat has also released several glasses with built-in cameras, but none of them have a screen.
Augmented reality glasses are a piece of science fiction that hasn’t really materialized yet, so it’s always exciting to see concepts like the one Google revealed this week. The company’s new idea seems to focus primarily on live translation, but it could just be a great app for a more general smart glasses product.