Seeing The World Through (Google) Glass

So last week I had the great opportunity to test-drive the truly futuristic device that is Google Glass. Similar space-age accessories have appeared in countless science fiction films and novels, but let me tell you, Google Glass is very real, very functional, and may be coming very soon.

The Basics

Let’s get this out of the way. Right now, Google Glass is in “open beta”, meaning it’s basically being marketed to developers at the moment. Technically, anyone can purchase one here, but at $1,500 I can’t say it’s worth it. Do not be alarmed, however, the price will most likely be around $400-$500 once it officially launches for consumers.

Glass is basically a small computer in the shape of eyeglass frames. It can be worn with or without a lens (frames can be customized – they slip right on and off). It doesn’t have the full capabilities of your smartphone however. It cannot call or text people without it being tethered to your mobile device via bluetooth.

So you probably still need to carry  your phone around. More importantly, Glass only comes with wifi at the moment, it can’t receive cellular signal (so no 3G or LTE). This means that Glass will use your smartphone’s data plan (via bluetooth) when it needs to ping the web. So Glass and your smartphone work together.

It Feels Magical

The first time you put Glass on, you will feel like a cyborg. One way to describe it is that it feels like a “natural” extension to your body. You don’t have to fidget around your purse or pocket to access it – as you would your phone – but instead, all you have to do is look slightly up and to the right. To navigate, you can use the touchpad no the right side of the frame. Currently, three gestures: down, forward, and tap allow you to either close, scroll and select what’s on the screen.

The screen is small enough that you actually don’t notice it at all if you’re looking straight ahead. It almost entirely disappears from your sight, unless you look slightly up. Although it definitely takes some getting used to, it does not feel intrusive at all.

On the main screen, you can use the voice command “Okay Glass” to bring up a list of commands onto your screen, which you can then dictate to the built-in microphone. Commands range from take a picture, record a video, give me directions, and perform a Google search. I had limited time with the device, but I could already see the potential in the near-instant speed at which I could do these any of these things.

I am highly interested in the photo and video taking capabilities. Currently, I have to physically whip my phone out of my pocket, start the camera app and tap a button to take a picture. Also, while recording a video, the phone’s screen is basically covering my view. Having Glass mounted onto your face not only frees your hands up, but also frees up your line of sight. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s actually phenomenal when you first experience it. Since the beginning of time, humans have captured moments by holding up a rather large camera to their face and snapping a photo. With Glass, it becomes second nature. You simply say the command.

The idea of getting instant directions is also helpful. I was just in Washington D.C. this past weekend and I had to look up walking directions to museums and monuments via smartphone. Instead of looking down at my phone, I could’ve been looking up at the sidewalk full of people and the street signs that could help direct me, all while getting directions spoken into my ear by Google Glass.

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Color options for Google Glass. Also available in gray (not in photograph).

Put My Money Where My Mouth Is

So it seems that all I have for Glass is praise. Why didn’t I walk out with a fresh pair when I visited Google’s Chelsea Market location last week? Mostly because of the price. I can’t stomach spending $1,500 on a piece of technology that I want. That’s the rub. No one actually needs this thing. It’s purely for convenience, akin to a bluetooth headset. There’s a huge potential for Glass to be used in a professional setting. Think of people that need instant information like surgeons, soldiers and firemen. They could really use such a tool, but as for the layperson, it’s just for convenience.

Will I get one at $400? You betcha’, but that’s just because I’m a technophile.

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The Biggest Ethical Question About Self-Driving Cars

I’ve done a fair amount of reading regarding self-driving cars, and the potential they have to change our world and all the good that can come from them. But to this date, this article written by Patrick Lin, is one that I always think about. He writes about self-driving cars from an ethicist’s perspective, and it really got me thinking. Here’s a brief summary of the scenario he portrays:

A self-driving car is racing down a crowded highway (adhering to the speed limit, of course) when, all of the sudden, an accident unfolds in front of it. Immediately to the front of the car is a tiny smart car and a big pick-up truck. The car’s algorithm runs through thousands, even millions, of possible scenarios in the milliseconds it has to react. The car concludes that it only has two choices: hit the smart car or hit the pick-up truck.

To entertain this possibility, you must accept the fact that the car’s computation really led to only these two choices. In reality, there is probably very little chance that this would occur. But nonetheless, the ethical dilemma is evident.

One rationale for the car choosing to hit the pick-up truck is that the massive size of the truck makes it well equipped to take a hit as compared to the frail body of the smart car. This would ensure safety for all drivers involved. But even in this scenario, the self-driving vehicle seems to be targeting large vehicles. Now, is it fair to truck drivers that they are essentially targets of self-driving vehicles? And what of the computer scientists who programmed this self-driving vehicle? Can they be held liable for programming the vehicle to target large trucks?

There is, of course, no right or wrong answer. We are in the gray area of autonomous machine ethics. I am definitely not qualified to comment on the questions posed above, but I do think about it every now and then. Regardless of what people may think, I believe we won’t come to a conclusion until a similar situation unfolds in the near future, leading the courts to essentially et a precedent for this scenario.

Obviously there are probably hundreds of varying opinions out there. If you have any thoughts or ideas on how this might play out, feel free to leave a comment.

Pro Tip: Google Maps – Traffic on Specific Time of Day

I took a break from working on my app, Pxture, to share this awesome technology tip! My job as an auditor has me going all over the place from clients’ offices to warehouses and everywhere else in between. So here’s a scenario I’m always stuck with: You’re going somewhere for the very first time and you’re not very familiar with the area. What do you do? You hop on Google Maps and get some directions. It even shows you live traffic information! But wait, what if it’s a Sunday night and you want to check what the traffic will be like during your commute Monday morning? Luckily, you can actually preview traffic information on Google Maps for whatever day and time you wish. Here’s how to do so:

1. Head over to maps.google.com

2. Hover over the search bar and click on “Traffic”

step 1

3. Select “Typical Traffic” and adjust the day and time option step 2

It’s that simple! Now you can preview traffic for any day of the week. Hope this helps, and safe travels.

Marketing “Text Fortress” – Facebook, Google, Twitter?

Text Fortress recently went live in the App Store and ever since then I’ve been brainstorming of ways to best promote the app. I’m an amateur marketer, using only Facebook and Twitter to promote my previous apps, so I really have no idea what I’m getting into. However, I do know that I want more exposure than what I achieved before, and that is why I am going to conduct an actual marketing campaign.

I plan to do both Facebook and Google Adwords advertising, but I’m going to start with the later because Facebook is more effective when I have the Facebook SDK integrated into the app (which I don’t).

As I learn more about these mediums of advertising, I plan to document my progress and share my experiences. Look out for my next post where I’ll talk about my initial experience with Google AdWords and how it can all seem so convoluted to someone who has never used it before.