Search giant Google is reportedly gearing up to sell a set of high-tech, computerized glasses — yes, as in spectacles — later this year, according to reports published by The New York Times this week, confirming earlier reporting by the blog 9to5 Google.
Not much is yet known about the high-tech specs for certain. They will reportedly contain a small camera, allowing users to snap photos and videos of their surroundings, but also a screen of some kind, allowing Google to layer relevant information and virtual objects over whatever the wearer is looking at, a concept known as “augmented reality,” which is already on display on many existing smartphone and tablet apps from other companies.
The glasses will be manipulated by a user’s facial gestures, rely on Google’s mobile Android operating system, have wireless Internet connectivity and cost about as much as a smartphone, anywhere from $250 to $600, according to Nick Bilton, tech writer for The New York Times.
But after reviewing Google’s U.S. patents over the past few years, TPM discovered several revealing inventions awarded to Google that would fit in with the glasses as so far described. The patents also indicate that the increasingly esoteric company was focused on developing the technology necessary for such glasses for at least several years, going back to 2009.
That was also the same year that Google launched Google Googles — a separate but related mobile app for Android smartphones that allows users to perform Google searches using photos snapped with a phone camera.
A patent filed by Google the same month Google Googles was released regarding visual searching also anticipates that technology will be used in an “augmented reality application.”
As that patent notes at the bottom: “…the results may be used to provide corrected location information to the mobile user device. They may also be used to provide enhanced content to the device. For instance, information may be provided about the point of interesting in the image. Or supplemental content regarding nearby buildings and attractions may be given, such as via a local listing or Yellow Pages application. The results may also be used in an augmented reality application.”
Another patent filed by Google just over a year ago, in February 2011, describes a much more arresting merging of physical reality and digital data. The patent is titled “Geo-coded comments in a messaging service,” basically layering social network comments over a map, comments relative to a particular location on that map.
As the patent explains: “The map can be two dimensional (2D) or three dimensional (3D) (e.g., augmented reality),” later adding, “The augmented reality context may refer to the area located around the user, where the user can capture and depict in their camera.”
A drawing included in the patent helps illustrate the concept:
Basically, Google would want a user of an augmented reality device — such as its forthcoming glasses — to look at a business and see reviews about it pop up outside the physical building.
Another patent filed by Google in November 2009 related to location and mapping, two of Google’s biggest passions, further reveals the company’s longterm vision for augmented reality technology. The patent also provides the only clear mention of computerized “goggles.”
The patent is for displaying data on a map or alongside a map based around specific tasks (the example Google gives is “house hunting”). While this is basically how Google Maps as we now know it works, Google’s patent specifically states that the technology could apple to an “LCD panel, a projector, a heads-up display for a vehicle, and/or a pair of virtual reality goggles.”
Yet another patent filed in March 2011 and just granted to Google in January this year is for a system to display content “at a fixed size” no matter what mobile device it appears on, so that a visual image, such as a corporate logo, isn’t distorted when it changes size. Google said the technology could apply to “wearable computers,” among a multitude of other devices.
Finally, regarding the reported controls of the Google glasses — which are said to be operated by gestures of the head, such tiling to scroll through a webpage — Google was granted a patent on February 9 of this year to allow a mobile device equipped with an accelerometer (a motion detection device) to automatically active certain applications based on what it thinks the user is doing. Google gives the examples of turning on music when a user is jogging or switching to a speakphone mode when riding in a car.
Other google patents, for scanning and annotating documents with a camera-enabled device and for allowing users to annotate things on Google Street View, could also conceivably make it into the glasses.
Google, though has yet to comment officially on their existence, let alone when they might be available and for how much. Until then, the best inferences that can be made come from the company’s existing patents and the reports of those close to it.