When wearable technology wears you

December 24, 2014

Google Glass came on the market last May. It’s essentially a hands-free smartphone in the form of a pair of eyeglasses (prescription lenses cost extra) that’s controlled by voice commands and a small touchpad on the stem.

The current show model is the Glass Explorer Edition, which comes in several colors and frame options and goes for $1,500 plus tax from Google’s online store, Google Play.

The frames can set you back $150 or more, and you’re limited to a plain, chunky nerd style, or one that looks like construction safety glasses.

Google boasts over 40 apps specifically for Glass, including an interactive map, text and video chat, as well as a search engine enabling you to compare something real to a worldwide database of images.

The company’s product video on YouTube, “How It Feels [through Google Glass],” purports to give you a taste of the experience, though “Elders React to Google Glass,” by The Fine Brothers, may be closer to the truth.

One of the most controversial features is its camera. With five megapixels for photos and 720p (pixels of vertical resolution) for video, it is about as good as your average smartphone, though way behind modern digital cameras.

The problem is that no one around you can tell whether the device is on or off—it can be turned on by tilting the head and a photo snapped by winking—potentially allowing users to record and broadcast private interactions or private locations.

Facial recognition apps are currently unavailable for Google Glass, but hackers have already circumvented the block. A light flashes when the device is recording, but an app to disable that feature probably isn’t very far away.

Movie theaters across the country are up in arms about the additional capacity for piracy. Moviegoers who show up wearing Glass or decide to use it during a show will be asked to remove it or leave—the same restrictions they already have on recording devices, including smartphones.

Not that movie theaters are uniquely unwelcoming of Glass. Government organizations, banks, bars and restaurants started banning it before it even hit the market, citing privacy and security concerns. Security researchers in Massachusetts discovered a way to enable Glass to discern passwords and PIN numbers from up to 10 feet away.

So, while it looks fun to stroll around like some kind of crossbred modern hipster/’90s amateur Xtreme sports enthusiast, you are going to find yourself switching off your Glass far more often than you would like. But if you are the type who rarely goes anywhere in public other than the local playground...see? That’s just creepy.

The news about Glass is not all bad. Those with Autism Spectrum Disorders are using Sension software that alerts them to facial cues, which helps in social interactions. This function has not been medically tested and Glass is not so friendly to other disabilities. It does not accommodate hearing aids, doesn’t offer captioning, and provides no alternative way to operate it for those with speech disorders.

The OpenGlass Project has developed an app called “Memento” that can pre-record notes to play back for visually impaired users when they’re facing a recognizable scene. Apps are in the works to identify obstacles in one’s path and to convert written language to spoken word.

Even if you pony up for prescription lenses, Glass is impractical as your primary corrective eyewear. It’s bulky and interferes with peripheral vision—because you’re wearing a computer on your face!—and the medical effects of frequently reading text at such close range have not been tested.

Not to mention the risks involved in receiving email in your eyeglasses while you’re driving. A handful of states are attempted to ban Glass while driving, but they’ve run up against a problem: Banning a driver’s corrective lenses is a bad idea, and there’s no way to tell whether a driver who’s wearing Glass has the computer function turned on.

Not to worry. Google is working on contacts next.

Adrian Miller is a Field Service Technician with extensive electro-mechanical training and experience. He is the Zenith’s web and graphic designer.

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