Next year’s defining new-tech moment is sure to be the public release of Google’s first ‘wearable’ technology, Google Glass. You’re probably already aware of the idea: a tiny heads-up display fitted to a frame that looks like a pair of lens-less glasses.
With its own built in camera, computer and a Bluetooth link to your mobile phone, the technology promises to revolutionise the lives of those people who currently spend all their time head-down, absorbed in their smartphone screens and virtual, online lives.
With Google Glass they’ll be able to do all that while giving the impression they’re concentrating on the thing or person in front of them.
Even before its launch, Google Glass is proving divisive. Some people are sure to queue around the block to get their hands on it while others worry it will lead to breaches of privacy as users are able to discreetly video everything they see.
Not to mention the spectre of zombie-like hordes that appear to be staring into the middle distance when they’re actually updating Facebook, tweeting their thoughts and answering emails.
Google won’t be stopping at this first-generation of heads-up ‘connected’ tech; a new patent from the firm is working on a more immersive system. Patent documents include details of a motorcycle helmet with the technology built into the visor.
Google’s patent, drily titled “Display device with image depth simulation”, reveals a system that replaces the display of the first-gen Google Glass – where an image is projected from the side into a transparent prism in the corner of your vision – with a new design that uses microscopic bumps on the surface of a lens to catch light from multiple sources around the edge.
The effect would be that of having images or text appearing directly on the lens, giving the impression that they’re hanging in front of the wearer.
As well as working on conventional-looking glasses the patent reveals how the idea could be used for motorcycle helmets. It says: “Light pixels could be fabricated into the visor of the helmet. In turn a virtual image may be displayed to the wearer.”
Car windscreens are also included in the document, which reveals that “light pixels may be incorporated into the automobile windshield”. It adds: “Useful information could be displayed using the array of light pixels, which may display a virtual image to a driver.
"For instance, the message ‘65mph current speed’ may appear as a virtual image near the centre of the driver’s field of view while the driver is concentrating on the road.
"Observing this message may be more convenient and safer than the driver looking down at the speedometer in the instrument panel. Warning and emergency messages could also be displayed to the driver in virtual images. For instance the message ‘Warning: Slow Traffic Ahead’ may be a useful alert to the driver.”
Sat-nav would be simple to incorporate and there are endless possibilities for customisation of what you see through the system.
Downside to heads-up tech
While the examples used in Google’s patent – specifically speed and traffic warnings – may offer road safety benefits, heads-up smartphone displays are likely to become a legal minefield.
The ability of Google Glass (and the more advanced successors shown here) to display information like sat-nav maps could allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road. But the responsibility to use it wisely falls on the user.
Police already struggle to control the use of hand-held phones, and tougher penalties for texting drivers have recently been introduced, but it will be impossible to tell whether Google Glass wearers are using their displays for sat-nav.
They could be updating Facebook, reading emails or reading a book, and no doubt in the near future they could be playing Angry Birds.
Like it or loathe it, the era of wearable smartphone technology is dawning, and inevitably it will filter onto motorcycles. Developers who have got their hands on pre-production versions of Google Glass have already tried the tech on bikes, with mixed results.
Videos on the internet show the built-in video camera provides an effective rider’s-eye view of the road ahead, but complaints include discomfort wearing a lid over the system, which has a battery pack behind your ear.