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David Fazio

  Harmony at Work


The Glass Promise: Google’s Look into an Inclusive Future

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Google Glass promises a sea change in the way people can shop, navigate streets, store data, and capture the everyday moments of their lives with photos, videos and conversations. David Fazio delves into the potential – and soon to be real – benefits for persons living with disabilities.

You walk through the mall looking for the right store to purchase a new pair of dress shoes for the big presentation you are slated to give in a couple of weeks. You turn your head towards a Cole Haan retailer. The inventory immediately pops up before your very eyes, on a transparent and digit-sized clear glass that can display digital information on it. You browse through the selection, using a flick of your finger to scroll up or down or to zoom in on a pair that looks just right. With a simple swipe of your hand in front of your face you alert the store that you are interested in a pair of shoes they retail – all this, before you even enter the store! Welcome to a world of the interface.

Google Glass is an augmented reality, wearable computer designed to look like a pair of spectacles without the lenses, but with a small glass display on one side of the frame. It was developed to take a step further toward ubiquitous computing, which is the idea that the Internet and computers will be accessible anywhere, anytime without having to use additional devices like keypads, wires or cellular phones to connect, contact or view information. Google Glass displays information in a Smartphone-like format that is hands-free, can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands and uses Google's Android operating system.

Google Glass is an augmented reality wearable computer, designed to look like a pair of spectacles

Image: Google is currently working on models that can be used with prescription lenses

Another customer, a middle-aged women, also finds it tedious to navigate through every store in the mall due to a stroke that has severely debilitated her motor skills. She would love to browse through some accessories, but can’t spend all day at the mall, navigating through the numerous floors, in and out of the elevator in her wheelchair. With Google Glass, she now has the freedom to ‘virtually’ browse through the product offerings across her favorite stores, without having to use her hands, a keyboard, mouse or PC . She hasn’t left the house much lately and wishes to be out and about with her girlfriends. She is once again included in the shopping experience with this seamless, hands-free and mobile interface. 

This technological advancement is practical and fun. It is accommodating. The gentleman saved time with this technology while the other customer was enabled and included in the shopping experience by the same technology. Glass has the potential to be used in a classroom, in a restaurant, while crossing the street or while on a vacation in a foreign country, at work or for play, and even with neighbors and friends. It will especially aid users of all abilities to use the device as per their requirements. Over the next couple of years, as Glass goes mainstream, and retails over the counter, customization will be the norm. Anyone from a deaf person to someone with visual impairment can set the mechanics according to their needs. Since it uses voice command and is connected to the Web, a person with physical disabilities will just have to ‘talk to Google’ to connect them to someone on their contacts list, or read out aloud the menu at a restaurant.

For example, you are a college student, traveling to Greece on a writing scholarship during the semester. You can’t read or write the language but with Glass, you can now see all the street signs, print materials and shop signage in English, because the display instantly translates Greek to English. You are now included in a culture that would have otherwise excluded you because you do not know the language. Again, you are a deaf student in a classroom of 120 students. The professor is too far on the dais from the front bench for you to lip read him. It doesn’t matter because every word that is spoken gets computed into text before your very eyes, on Glass. You experience the lecture live along with them. Earlier, a sign Language interpreter would have had to be present in order for you to participate in this lecture. Now, we even have apps that convert sign language to text or text to sign language, so that any user can engage with learning the way s/he is comfortable in. Harmony has been put to work here, to provide you with the same “college experience” as the rest of your classmates.

What sounds like science fiction is actually the promise of Google Glass. The concept of head-worn displays for augmented reality is not new, however, the company’s design and application is far more practical because it’s much smaller and slimmer than previous designs for head-mounted displays. The system looks like a pair of normal eyeglasses where the lens is replaced by a head-up display. Google is currently working on models that can be used with prescription lenses. As the technology becomes more popular it will become more affordable. So many people will be included in so many of the everyday experiences that is normative or mundane for the rest of us. 

Google cofounder, Sergey Brin, wore a prototype of the Glass to an April 5, 2012 Foundation Fighting Blindness event in San Francisco. This revolutionary technology offers obvious potential to provide livable solutions to the visually impaired. Android’s vOICe application works like sonar, giving the user an idea of where objects are around them in space. Google Glass allows this hands-free with head movements rather than waving your phone around. Blind users will be allowed to participate in much of everyday life without having to broadcast that they are different, that they are disabled or that they are incapable of being independent.

The Google look can be our future “inclusive” society as more and more developers focus on harmony at work to make Glass practical and entertaining with livable solutions. 


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