Google Augmented Reality Stars of 2012: Glass and Ingress


Ever since the impromptu fashion show at Google I/O 2012, Google Glass—the augmented reality spectacles produced by the world’s Internet search megagiant—we’ve been sitting on the edge of our seats to see where this product might go. A little bit goofy looking, for all its stylish affectations, but then again the first Bluetooth headsets didn’t compel a sense of wonder either; and a price tag that will put it out of the hands of most consumers in the beginning, but we’re going to keep speculating.

Then came along a demo for an alternate reality game that uses augmented reality: Ingress. Putting together a science fiction story to get people to visit landmarks in their home town with their smartphone and use it to record their surroundings. So far, it’s easy to tell that this is likely Google testing out an idea to gather data and entertain people at the same time.

Google Glass

Wearable computing has long been a huge desire of geeks everywhere and we’ve never been closer. Smartphones and other mobile devices put extremely powerful computing devices right in our front pocket, as well as the means to communicate with them—either via a Bluetooth headset or their own display. We’ve seen repeated attempts at advancing the connection between human and device, but it’s hard to deconstruct the usefulness of nothing having to pull out the smartphone and look at it.

Enter the heads-up-display projected into glasses—the potential applications and innovations are nearly limitless—couple that with a pointing device (or just the Kinect-style gesture detection) and you’ve got all you need for the perfect augmented reality HUD setup.

The advent of Google Glass has spurred not just a discussion of the first generation of these types of devices via their own show at Google I/O and the stirring interest in the public; but it’s also pulled some competitors out of the woodwork. Apple has been seen making motions in that direction with patents not directed at everyday consumers as Google, instead the Apple iGlasses may focus on professionals. Finally there’s been some odd rumors coming out of Microsoft about potential Kinect Glasses, but that’s just wild speculation right now.

Looking at Google Glass we see what could catapult on-head displays into the consumer sphere: a coupling of device and humanity that permits people to record their thoughts/experience hands free and access information from their smartphone. A person could hold a conversation with unseen others via Bluetooth or wireless, watch a presentation as they walk through the park, or even follow along at a seminar while riding on the train. Telepresence is more than just bringing images to a screen, it’s about immersing the operator in the communication and Google Glass is the perfect preparation for that.

Google Ingress

If anything will go well with Google Glass, it will be alternate reality games such as Google Ingress.

A pair of heads-up-display spectacles coupled with a smartphone will not just allow users to record their world, but process what the camera sees and present metadata over what they can see. Imagine “Terminator vision” where a person has these wired spectacles on and the smartphone acts as a conduit to render real-time information about surroundings—it would provide wonders for navigation, quick study of products, an understanding of services in an area, even potentially providing warnings for weather updates.

Ingress presents an interesting experiment in getting people out of the house with their smartphones and into the local community. We’ve seen services such as FourSquare and others provide hyperlocal information as well as permitting people to track where one another are (when the service is told to do so) using GPS and geolocal IP—and this has done some interesting things for gaming and gamification. After all, how fun is it to have your username “known” for a particular spot for checking in so many times.

With an alternate reality game such as Ingress it’s once again as much about socialization for the players as it is about gathering data for Google. However, looking at using gamification to get better pictures, no doubt Google is going to use something like Ingress to gather better data about foot traffic patterns. The game uses the concept of “capturing” points in a city for a particular faction, meaning that players must revisit landmarks, parks, and other places of power to put their time in weekly, providing a lot of time/space data for building a model of how people move and potentially making maps better.

The above goes back once again to how useful a product like Google Glass might be for navigation. Enough information about foot traffic and local surroundings and a HUD in a pair of wired spectacles could deliver a lit path through a city via the glasses.

And now, excuse me: I’m losing control of the nexus of power by the sculpture in the local park. I should go tag it for my faction before we lose our foothold in this dimension.