Google Glass comes to Boston University


Imagine yourself in a situation where your hands are completely occupied. Now, imagine receiving an important email or a text message that you need to respond to right away, but apparently can’t since your hands are tied up. Is there a way you can multitask without stopping what you were doing earlier? Google Glass says yes.

A computer eyewear, Google Glass joins a growing list of tech wearables that are rapidly entering our lives today. Smartwatches can run mobile apps and take pictures. Small gadgets by a company called Fitbit can track the number of steps walked and our quality of sleep, amongst other personal metrics. A Dutch artist and innovator created ‘Intimacy 2.0’, a dress that turns transparent when the
wearer is aroused. And now we have Glass, which pairs with your smartphone to deliver notifications on a small LED screen at the corner of your right eye and takes voice commands from the wearer.

A team from Google visited Boston University in late April to demonstrate what Glass is all about and to let students try it. “The idea of computers that you wear on your body is not new,” said Wilson White, public policy manager for Glass, at BU’s Hariri Institute. “It’s something that’s been happening for decades and Glass is really Google’s effort to jump into that category of devices.”

In his presentation White referred to how in this day and age of smartphones we find ourselves constantly engaged, heads down, staring at our phone screens without living in the moment. He mentioned texting while driving as a big public hazard. So the vision behind Glass, according to White, is to counter these problems and to reduce the time between our intention to do something and when we are actually able to do it.

“It’s really for quick micro interactions,” said White. “The objective is to have technology there when you need it and how to avoid it when you don’t.”

Glass, which is not out in the market yet, is going through a developmental phase. The Explorer Program launched last year allowed people to send in applications to Google and purchase an earlier version of Glass. Over the past one year, this growing number of Glass Explorers have given their feedback on the product to Google and shared their stories on the new and innovative ways they are using this piece of technology.

Alex Blaszczuk, a disabled Columbia University law student, used Glass to navigate her way on a camping trip with friends. American professional tennis player Bethanie Mattek-Sands uses Glass to video record her practice with a first-person perspective. Patrick Johnson, a Rocky Mount firefighter, gets hands-free access to information, such as a burning house’s floor plan and a hydrant location in emergency responses.

Glass has also made an impact in the field of medicine. More and more surgeons are wearing Google Glass in the operating room to livestream surgeries and consult with colleagues. “Glass has been a very powerful tool for training med students because you get to see what the surgeon sees as opposed to a third party view of it,” said White.

Like any new piece of technology, Glass has had its fair share of critics and the issue of privacy is at the forefront. Understandably, if you go around wearing a device that can record and photograph your every move with a voice command, questions will arise. According to White, Google has tried to address this problem in the way they have designed Glass. The screen light ups when you’re using the device, making it visibly clear to the onlookers. “We all have smartphones now with cameras so it’s not a fundamentally different technology,” said White. “Over time the social norms around this type of technology will evolve.”

Google Glass owners, not using the device in socially acceptable ways or, in other words found staring off into space, have been commonly called “glassholes”. TechCrunch coined the term and Urban Dictionary defines it as “A person who constantly talks to their Google Glass, ignoring the outside world.”

Glass wearers have faced hostility for flaunting their new gadget in public. Since only a limited number of people have access to the device, it is considered as a status symbol. One San Francisco woman had her Glass snatched off her face, but later returned, in a bar on a Friday night. While reporter Kyle Russell lost his Google eyewear when protesters during an anti-Google demonstration in San Francisco took it off and smashed it to the ground.

BU students got a chance to play around with the new gadget. “It’s definitely very cool,” said journalism graduate student Alexandra Shi, who was trying Glass for the first time. “It looks like something that you can only see in the movies and now it’s like in real life.”

Qi Wang, a public relations graduate student, liked the idea of receiving and sending messages instantly without even picking up her phone. However, she doesn’t see herself buying Glass in the near future. “I don’t think it’s a necessity for students,” said Wang. “We can still use our phones and laptops to practice all the functions of Google Glass, so it’s replaceable.”

Students and teachers recognized how Glass could be distracting. “Well, I can see how it could be dangerous, at least at first,” said journalism professor Chris Daly in a recent email. “It can be very distracting, so you better not be using Glass while driving, walking downstairs or crossing a busy street.”

The device is already being introduced in classrooms of certain colleges. Cornell music professor Cynthia Johnston Turner uses Glass to record her students performing and posts videos immediately on the class’s Google+ group. Come this fall, students at University of Southern California will be offered a new course called Glass Journalism. “The class will explore ways in which wearable devices could transform journalistic storytelling and newsgathering,” assistant professor Robert Hernandez said in his blog.

Daly, who also attended the Glass presentation, sees the device being useful in the field of journalism. “I can see an obvious application as a ‘headline’ service pushing out text alerts,” said Daly. “And let’s say you are doing an interview, you could have a list of topics loaded into your Glass to prompt you not to forget certain subjects.”

On April 15, Google opened Glass sales for the general public for one day, with a price of $1500 and the company announced soon afterwards that all of the new spots in their Explorer program had been filled up. As for when the product will officially be out in the market, White said, “We don’t have a mass launch yet that we are disclosing publicly but it’s down the road.”

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