The failure of Google Glass taught lessons about connecting smart glasses to real applications where they can make a difference, says the head of the MEMS Industry Group.
Alas, poor Google Glass, I never really got to know you. I wanted to, really. I was there when Google unveiled you at its Google I/O lovefest by parachuting on top of Moscone Convention Center with live video feed of the extravaganza. That was so cool! I learned from insiders and friends at Google that you were adorned with many MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) and sensors – so of course, I loved that! I was so close to having you...and yet…
I could never rationalize the $2,000 starter price to walk around with another set of glasses in addition to the specs that I need to actually see. I could never accept the stigma attached to them -- that I was another “Glasshole” who could track, record and digitize every aspect of my life -- personal and professional. I was never comfortable with that level of intimacy with a wearable that was so un-wearable
I guess I was not alone in my decision not to don a pair of Google Glasses. And as announced recently by Google, the project was shelved and given for a reboot to the head of Nest, the smart thermostat folks recently purchased last year by Google for $3.2 billion.
So what explains the “epic fail” of Google Glass? Why the decision to drop the project within a week of Microsoft’s announcement of its virtual reality (VR) wearable glasses HoloLens? Will Microsoft’s HoloLens also fail? And what makes a successful wearable?
I know these are loaded questions and there are no definite answers. Let me begin by answering the last question in hopes that it will help shed light on the other two.
For a wearable to be successful, the user should not be aware that he/she is wearing it, according to my friend and human-computer interaction (HCI) expert, Mark DiPerri. The wearable should be seamless, powered efficiently and effectively and should enhance the user’s quality of life. Google Glass did all these things poorly, and that is why it failed.
That said, I have seen a successful use of smart glasses by Vuzix, who in partnership with enterprise software firm SAP, is marketing an augmented reality offering designed for industrial applications, and in particular, distribution centers. A video demonstration shows some exciting possibilities for a forklift operator.
Clearly, this is a good use of smart glasses and I wonder why Google didn’t directly address such a market. Maybe it was not sexy enough for them -- but alas, sex appeal can only last so long. Eventually the honeymoon is over and you’re left with a pair of smart glasses that you don’t want to wear in public.
I wonder if designers, architects, and warehouse workers will ever use Microsoft’s HoloLens or will its appeal be limited to gamers glued to their Xboxes? I have heard the reviews of these babies are pretty solid, though I have yet to see a pair worn in public.
At the 2015 International CES, I saw some pretty awesome VR glasses from Virtuix that gave users a realistic feeling of being in the battlefield of a video game. But given that I am not a video gamer, these glasses still aren’t for me.
I can’t help but wonder what else a system like the Virtuix Omni can enable. Can’t we use these glasses for real-time on-the-job training for police, firefighters, paramedics and other rescue personnel? What about remote surgeries? What about teachers and students in an interactive classroom? Heck, maybe I can have a pair of smart glasses that can help me cook a decent meal without burning part of it. That would be a great quality of life improvement for my family!
Yes, we can push the envelope of where and how we use smart glasses. I am sure we will. Thanks to the MEMS and sensors inside them, along with sensor fusion algorithms and smart data analytics, we can and will create smart glasses that I’ll want and treasure. I am excited to see where the next, post-Google Glass generation of smart glasses will take us.
Karen Lightman is the Executive Director of the MEMS Industry Group.