Google Glass was one of the first breakout attempts at 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 published a nearly two-minute video about the potential for augmented reality to reduce language barriers, through glasses that would overlay other conversations in your own native language. The video showed off a pair of normal-looking glasses performing real-time translation, and showing the results to the person wearing the glasses. Think the Combadge from Star Trek, but on your face.
Before you get too excited, this isn’t a product announcement, or even confirmation Google will release any AR-powered glasses anytime soon — the narration just calls it “a prototype we’ve been working on.” Most AR glasses are also more bulky than the product in the video, since it needs room for a processor, battery, wireless radios, and other hardware components.
Still, this is the first indication from Google in years that the company is (potentially) interested in selling smart glasses to people. The original Google Glass prototype from 2013, dubbed the ‘Explorer Version,’ was only intended to be used by developers while Google kept working on the hardware and software. However, the product became unpopular with the general public (mostly due to its integrated 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 in its warehouses, because workers didn’t need to shuffle through paper instructions or a phone while handling packages.
Even though Google hasn’t released any smart glasses to the general public in years, many other companies have also tried the idea. The 2019 Vuzix Blade is pretty close to the original concept for Google Glass, with an integrated display and a touchpad for controls, but reviews were rough. The company behind Snapchat has also released several glasses with built-in cameras, but none of them have a display.
Augmented reality glasses are one piece of sci-fi that still hasn’t truly materialized, so it’s always exciting to see concepts like the one Google revealed this week. The company’s new idea seems mainly focused on live translation, but that could simply be a killer app for a more general smart glasses product.