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Wearable Computing December 10, 2012

Posted by pvidosa in Mobility.
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Introduction

Project Glass from Google is a project that is focused on developing a wearable computer built into a pair of glasses.[1]  The idea behind it is that we have the ability to augment a user’s reality by giving context about the environment that he is in.  The glasses would also provide a lot of functionality that is already available through today’s smartphones.

There are other wearable computers available that look to achieve augmented reality for the user or they simply are used as hands-free computers.  EyeTap is a device that looks similar to Project Glass which provides augmented reality to the user.[2]  Olympus’s MEG4.0 is a wearable display that displays screen content from your smartphone.[3]  There is more and more interest in this field as the technology is finally available to make this reasonably priced and usable.

Opportunity

I think there is a huge opportunity right now for someone to jump into the consumer wearable-computer market.  Users would have the ability to have a camera at ready whenever they are wearing the glasses.  This would lead to fewer lost special moments.  Also, the user has the ability to use the device even if his hands are occupied.  This would provide the user with more privacy than he would have when using his phone.  Others can’t simply look over your shoulder to see what you are doing.  However, the greatest aspect about this device would be the fact that you would have access to your smartphone experience at all times.  Everything that your phone can do, this can also do and it is always in front of you.  There are going to be so many new possible applications for a wearable device that just wouldn’t be possible or may not make sense with a smartphone.

Challenges

There are many challenges for creating a device like Google Glass.  One of the challenges is including a large enough battery that will be able to keep the device powered for an entire normal day of usage while not making the device extremely bulky.

Battery Power

How long the device is able to run off of batteries would be a huge concern.  The device looks to be fairly compact and unnoticeable, but that doesn’t fit well with long battery life.  This device would need to be able to power a camera, LCD or OLED display and Bluetooth radio for communication.  A small LCD display would draw much less power than those used in smartphones because of the fact that there would be fewer pixels to power.  However, most smartphone users don’t have their screens on all day as that would quickly drain the battery.

Google Glass is said to use Bluetooth as the primary data connection for the device.  It will need to be connected to another device using Bluetooth which has an active internet connection.  This could be a smartphone or personal computer.  The advantage is that Bluetooth uses much less power than Wi-Fi or a 4G data connection.  Bluetooth uses less power because it is only intended for short range communication.  However, even though it is a low power connection, doesn’t mean that it won’t consume a lot of the device’s battery power.  To provide context about the user’s surroundings, the device will need an active connection to the internet.  Also, the device is shown to be able to make phone calls and participate in video chat.  Video chat would use quite a bit of bandwidth and it could quickly drain the battery.

Input

Another major challenge to this project is how to actually control the device.  The first obvious solution is to use voice commands.  Voice commands are becoming fairly popular now with the smartphone operating systems, but there are many situations that you may not want to or cannot use voice commands to control the device.  You may be typing up a message that you want to keep private or you may be in a location such as, a library where you shouldn’t be talking.

Solution

Even with all those challenges, I still think that Google Glass is a viable product.  There are so many advantages that will outweigh the disadvantages at launch.  I believe I have solutions to some of the challenges that will be encountered by the device and I will discuss them here.

The challenge of having enough battery power will be a very difficult challenge to overcome.  There are a few solutions that can be considered.  The first option is to include a larger battery with the glasses.  This is likely to not happen as it will make the glasses too bulky.  Another solution is to provide better power management software that will turn off sensors and other components when they are not being used or when we can guess that they will not need to be used.  This will be a part of the solution because it is something that we can do without adding too much cost to the device.  Another option is to allow the user to buy an external battery that can be connected to the glasses and stored in a pocket.  This will give heavy users an option to increase their battery life, but it definitely shouldn’t be something that should be necessary for average users.

The display will likely only be a challenge for a short amount of time.  We have seen pixel densities in displays increase dramatically in the past few years.  There are phones with five inch displays with 1920 by 1080 resolution.[4]  There is not much that can be done in this area besides wait for higher pixel density displays.  Once those are available, the experience with these glasses will improve.  With a pixel density of around 430ppi, this should be sufficient for a first iteration of the glasses.  In this case, I would make the screen about one inch wide by half an inch tall.  This would provide a resolution of about 430 by 215 pixels.

The input device has a possibility for a very simple solution.  Since these glasses will likely be used with a data connection provided by a smartphone, I propose using the smartphone as a Bluetooth keyboard.  This would give the user extra control while in a situation where he shouldn’t be talking out loud or wants to use his device privately.  Also, there is another option that may be more viable in the future which is a glove that has a keyboard built into it.[5]  This has the advantage of not requiring the user to be looking at their phone to be using the glasses or to type a message.

The rest of the device is much more standard as it will likely share many components with current smartphones.  The CPU and GPU do not need to be extremely high end.  The focus here should be low power consumption.  Since the display will be fairly low resolution, the GPU doesn’t need to be as powerful as those in today’s smartphones.

Since the device will be used in conjunction with a smartphone, it doesn’t need to have 3G or 4G modems.  These components use quite a bit of power in smartphones and so this is another way to reduce power consumption.  The glasses will have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modems so that they can communicate with the smartphone and be able to make use of its data connection.  Wi-Fi would be used when the device needs a connection that is capable of higher bandwidth.  Bluetooth will be used most of the time as it will allow the device to consume less power.[6]

The camera will be an integral part of the device.  It will be mounted somewhere on the front of the frame, probably near the display.  The reason for this is that the display will be in front of the dominant eye.[7]  Thus when taking a picture, the image that you want to take is the image you see from your dominant eye.  The camera will also come with an LED flash right next to it so that low-light situations can be illuminated somewhat.  I can also imagine this as being a very useful head-mounted flashlight.

As far as hearing audio with the device there are a few possibilities.  I believe it would be very useful to have built in speakers that will be somewhere near the ear.  This would allow you to hear the audio from the device, but not require it to be too loud so that it disturbs others.  Another possibility is that you could use a Bluetooth ear bud or ear buds.  For voice commands, I would imagine there would be multiple microphones on the device so that the device could cancel out the noise from the environment to better understand your commands.

Conclusion

From what is described here, I think many consumers will be excited about a device like this.  It will further integrate technology into our everyday lives and make our lives easier.  I believe this new platform will create many opportunities for new applications that are not possible or feasible on smartphones.  This is the next step in mobile computing.

References

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Glass

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EyeTap

[3] http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/07/olympus-resurrects-wearable-display-initiative/

[4] http://crave.cnet.co.uk/mobiles/htc-butterfly-is-a-5-inch-1080p-phone-causing-a-storm-50009926/

[5] http://gauntletkeyboard.com/

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluetooth

[7] http://phandroid.com/2012/10/16/why-knowing-your-dominant-eye-will-be-important-for-project-glass/

 

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