They may seem weird and wacky now but, as Dan Matthews reports, glasses featuring a small screen could be on a face near you soon
One of the most interesting aspects of science fiction is how often it becomes the basis of science fact. Google Glass is just the latest in a long line of real-world inventions inspired by films, TV shows and comic books that depict fanciful other-world technology.
The Terminator definitely had it, so did RoboCop; I think Short Circuit did too: a field of vision layered with information about their whereabouts. For these characters the power of augmented sight was useful for preventing or committing crime; for you and me the applications are more banal, but potentially no less useful.
Google Glass is essentially a small computer mounted on a pair of spectacles with the “screen” sitting neatly in the top right-hand corner of your eye-line. It gives users the computing power of a smartphone – internet search, picture taking, filming, even language translation applications – without the irritating requirement of using your hands.
There is a touchpad on the arm of the glasses as well as mic for voice commands, meaning you can manipulate data easily too. And, keeping the conversation two-way, Glass incorporates bone-induction technology, effectively rattling your skull to create sound instead of the old way of feeding it directly into your ears. Customers are assured this is pain-free.
You can see how this technology could become very useful. Instead of exacerbating an angry Frenchman by juggling a smartphone in an effort to bring up a translation app, you’ll be able to impress him with your easy comprehension and laconic, fluent response.
Sat nav, car-born or otherwise, will be more intuitive; phone calls will be answerable without the need to revert to a pocket; photographs will, quite simply, capture what you’re looking at – no wobble, no focus-fumbling.
Brilliant; what’s the catch? Well money is one, each unit could retail at between £300 and £500 at launch, although the price will come down over time. Another is that most people think they look completely ridiculous: a recent study by e-commerce supplier Venda shows that 79 per cent of consumers would feel embarrassed to wear them.
That said, time is a great healer – think how silly mobile phones looked until we all got used to them – and Google is already developing prettier and more socially-acceptable versions of Glass for the fashion-conscious technophile.
“Wearable displays such as Glass can assist in many daily tasks and it makes the internet more ‘portable’,” says Kevin Curran, from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, who is a senior lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Ulster.
“There may come a time when people do not wish to be ‘disconnected’ for any long periods. Being at the top of your game in the business world requires real-time availability more and more. Success for new technology hinges on how useful it really is in the long run.”
Instead of exacerbating an angry Frenchman by juggling a smartphone in an effort to bring up a translation app, you’ll be able to impress him with your easy comprehension and laconic, fluent response
As Google Glass and its competitor inventions grow gradually more sophisticated, they’ll no doubt become more useful to us, until soon leaving them at work will evoke the same feeling of dread that forgetting your phone or house keys does now.
In the future, the potential to synchronise Glass with other machines, such as your car, bike, TV or other computers, gives the technology a chance to be relevant at every turn. It also has the potential to feed the modern desire to document the minutiae of life: set Glass to record when you wake-up and get total recall of your whole day.
“I believe I will be wearing something similar to Google glasses,” says Mr Curran. “I would feel self-conscious at present wearing them, but if they become mainstream, then that stigma is gone. The ability to have a heads-up display with the ability to surf the internet is too useful to overlook.”
WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY TO ‘REBUILD’ YOUR EYES
People in their 50s and 60s are increasingly opting for bionic lens implants.
Milind Pande, consultant ophthalmic surgeon and medical director at the Vision Surgery & Research Centre, says: “Lens implants are replacement lenses used in lens exchange and cataract surgery procedures. Lens exchange surgery is suitable for patients who use bifocals, varifocals or reading glasses and want to see better without them.”
Lenses are available in a range of designs to correct the full range of focusing errors. No single lens design works for every patient; the challenge is to understand the patient’s needs and choose the lens which provides optimal functional vision. Far, near (reading) and intermediate (computer) vision can be tailored to individual requirements.
“We have developed a CustomLens technique, whereby we choose the lens for each eye after measuring the patient’s functional vision,” says Mr Pande. “It achieves a range of vision as close as possible to that of a ‘normal’ 21 year old. Patients undergoing lens exchange will never need an otherwise inevitable cataract operation as their new lenses will not form cataracts.
“A patient’s natural lens is removed and replaced by a powerful man-made lens. Lens exchange surgery is safe and highly effective with fast, painless recovery. Increasingly, patients in their 50s and 60s are opting to have their ageing lenses replaced and ‘see young’ again.”