At this week’s Google I/O conference the company teased a bevy of future products that are currently in development. In addition to the upcoming Pixel Watch, Pixel tablet, and new Pixel phones, it also teased a new set of Augmented Reality (AR) glasses. Google has mostly been left out of the wearable/metaverse conversation up until now, but the company is throwing its hat in the ring with a truly innovative concept.
While companies like Meta are firmly in the Virtual Reality camp with its Quest headsets, Google seems to be planting its flag firmly in the world of AR. In a blog post covering everything at the I/O conference, Google’s CEO calls AR “a new frontier of computing.” He says AR has the ability to expand how we use computers and access information into a magical realm where the technology simply disappears. That’s where the company’s prototype glasses come in. In a short video demo (below), Google shows how its glasses can translate spoken language with an AR overlay.
The video begins with a Chinese mother and daughter. The mother speaks Mandarin, but her daughter speaks English. She says she can understand her daughter’s English, but can’t reply back in her native language. The daughter puts the glasses on and voila, the Mandarin is translated into English right in front of her. Another example shows a man speaking in English, with it being translated into Spanish for his friend (father?). Finally, a hearing impaired woman who communicates in sign language is able to wear them and see subtitles when her daughter speaks to her. It’s enough to bring a tear to your eye, and that’s not sarcasm.
Google is no stranger to the AR glasses department. The company was a pioneer in the field with Google Glass in 2013. That was a product that was ahead of its time, as it notably spawned an entirely new word to describe people who wore them: glassholes. In the intervening years though Google has been hard at work with Google Translate. It says it’s poured much of that research into these unnamed glasses. It’s also interesting that the prototype glasses look a lot like the Enterprise version of Glass released three years ago.
Overall, this is seriously cool technology. It’s always easy to slag off product demos that seem corny or outlandish, but this seems actually useful. Heaven knows we’ve written our share of terse words about the Metaverse already. But Google’s approach of glasses that aid you, and can improve your quality of life in the right circumstances, is laudable. Even beyond the travelings in human-to-human communication we can already see it revolutionizing the experience of abroad. That’s just based on our own experience of using Google Translate to read train station signs in Europe. Imagine if we could just look at signs and have them subtitled in our line of sight. Or trying to talk to foreign taxi/uber drivers, or even shop owners. Of course, Google didn’t show off that functionality, but one can hope. Google didn’t mention many other details about the glasses, so we have no idea when they’ll come to market, pricing, and so forth. Hopefully more information will be revealed sooner rather than later. To say our interest in piqued is an understatement.