Google to publicly test augmented reality glasses again

Google AR glasses prototype

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Google will test augmented reality prototypes in public facilities, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Some prototypes look like normal glasses and are equipped with microphones and cameras and transparent displays.

The new glasses are not yet a product and are not available to the public, but Google wants to test apps such as real-time translation or showing the user instructions in glasses, especially in environments such as busy intersections.

The tests represent a significant advance in Google’s development of augmented reality, a technology that many in Silicon Valley believe could mark a major shift in computing, like the smartphone and PC before it. Augmented reality places computer-generated images over the real world, as opposed to virtual reality, which completely immerses the viewer in an artificial world or ‘metaverse’.

By announcing plans for public testing, Google is also trying to get ahead of the kind of privacy concerns that helped sink Google Glass, one of the first augmented reality devices, nearly a decade ago.

Google Glass was equipped with a front-facing camera, and critics were concerned about users recording people without their consent. Glass wearers were given a derogatory nickname, and in 2014, a woman wearing the glasses said she was attacked in a bar in San Francisco. Ultimately, Google repurposed the glasses to focus on business customers rather than consumers.

“It’s early and we want to get this right, so we’re taking it slow, with a strong focus on ensuring the privacy of the testers and those around them,” Google product manager Juston Payne wrote in the blog post about the new product.

“These research prototypes look like regular glasses, have a display in the lens, and have audio and visual sensors, such as a microphone and camera,” Google said on a support page about the tests.

The device is equipped with an LED light that turns on when the glasses are recording image data. Google says the glasses won’t record video or take photos for users to save and view later, but they can capture image data and use it to perform functions like identifying objects or showing clues. Testers will not wear the glasses in schools, government offices, healthcare facilities, churches, protests or other sensitive areas, Google said. The tests will be conducted by “several dozen Googlers and selected trusted testers” and will take place somewhere in the US

Google unveiled its AR glasses at its developer conference in May with a focus on translating speech in real time so that a person would see a foreign language translated before their eyes. A Google employee called the glasses “captioning for the world” during the presentation.

Google is fiercely competing with other tech giants, including Apple, Meta and Microsoft, to build the first next-generation augmented reality glasses. All four companies have invested billions in augmented reality software and hardware in hopes of a breakthrough that could enable a new computing platform, but current products have yet to catch on.

“The magic really comes to life when you can use it in the real world without the technology getting in the way,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai in the announcement.

Apple is reportedly preparing to announce a mixed reality headset next year. Meta has announced an advanced mixed reality headset that supports augmented reality features to be released later this year. Microsoft’s Hololens is, for now, the most advanced augmented reality hardware on the market from a major tech company.