Attendees of the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco this week saw a demo of the search giant's Glass wearable computing technology and were even promised the opportunity to take the headsets for a whirl themselves -- just not right now, and the chance won't come cheap.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who has championed Glass at Google, interrupted Google vice president Vic Gundotra's Wednesday keynote address to show off the technology. Bearded and giving a studied performance of not having prepared his remarks, Brin proceeded to wow the crowd with a demo that saw athletes skydiving, mountain biking, and finally rappelling down the walls of the Moscone West convention center, all while wearing Glass headsets. Live video of the stunts was streamed via a Google+ Hangout.
"It was neat that all of that worked out so well," Brin quipped after the performance. "I didn't expect it to."
The demonstration showed off a new prototype of the headsets, which resemble a pair of eyeglasses with a small piece of technology attached to one earpiece. According to Glass lead designer Isabelle Olsson, light weight and wearability were key design goals for the headsets, and the new versions actually "weigh less on your nose than many sunglasses."
That leaves open the question of what they're actually good for, assuming you're not in the habit of hang gliding to the office. According to team lead Babak Parvis, the Glass project has two main goals: to enable communication through images and to provide extremely rapid access to information.
Because the Glass headset includes a built-in camera, wearers can take photos and video anywhere they go, be it at a social gathering or in the kitchen while preparing a recipe. Brin showed example images taken by the Glass team as they wore the headsets during their daily lives.
Tellingly, however, none of the people featured in the photos were themselves wearing Glass headsets. Presumably the bemused expressions on their faces meant, "Why are you wearing those funny glasses?" But wearing the Glass headset did seem to yield some quality baby pictures.
The "rapid access to information" part was left more to the imagination in the demo, but users can eventually expect to see various forms of searches integrated with the device, including capabilities similar to those in the Google Goggles Android app.
There was a momentary hush over the crowd as Brin explained that he wanted to get the technology into developers' hands as soon as possible, but attendees who were hoping a Glass headset would be among this year's conference freebies were quickly disappointed.
Google I/O attendees are able to preorder a Glass Explorer Edition onsite at the conference, but only if they live in the United States -- and even then, the devices won't ship until sometime next year. They also cost $1,500, no exceptions.
That price tag will likely be off-putting to many Google I/O attendees, who had already shelled out $900 for a ticket to the conference. It also wasn't immediately clear what role developers would play in the launch of the project, which so far seems little more than a fancy geek gizmo.
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