Friday, 11 July 2014

Wearable Glass and 360° vision.

Disruptive technologies have a way to get through from SciFi to market success in a few years, witness mirrorless cameras.

A few observers forsee the same for Google Glass, the wearable device getting mainstream this year : shall we kiss goodbye our smartphones? I would shed no tears. This is an preliminary article anyway: we'll see how things pan out. For the moment this is more an inventory of links, than an assessment, but I have no doubts that wearable technology is already taking long strides.

For the moment universal use seems hardly likely, except for the affluent, with Google Glass selling to a selected few at $ 1500  as part of the Google Explorer program. Google has just expanded to Britain the Explorer Program,selling the Glass for UKP 1000, offering in the meanwhile  new  glass frames that could be compatible with prescription lenses in the UK.

Here at Wikipedia the last specs:

What drew my attention however is the appearance of a Chinese clone , the SimEye.
 At $500 it seems far more reasonable. The difference is in the number of app offered, and the fact that it doesn't respond to voice controls like the original, and has no sound transmission through the skull bones like Google. But it can still take photographs and record movies with 4 times the definition of Google. And it can still download apps directly from Google Android Libraries.
Would that be able to interface with one of my cameras?

Photo Wang Yin Hao

Looks a bit unsteady. Note that Google mentioned recently that the final price to consumers of the Glass would be close to your average smartphone - so better wait!

Meanwhile Olympus published a patent for wearable glasses, and I later discovered it is associated with Kopin company for development of a new device.
Olympus is known for its world dominance in endoscopes and medical devices, so Medical could be the first application. But it could also go consumer:

Note that the device can be disassembled, which is not true of Google Glass.

Imagine surgery with augmented vision, a thing that military jet pilots already have with their headup displays in their helmets. But here the device is much lighter and less intrusive.
It could also bring augmented reality to the operating table: a surgeon could  see a heart in 3D:

Or could it go Consumer and Virtual? Virtual Reality quit consumer markets some ten years ago because it required some extremely fast and expensive computers to be credible. Therefore it was the preserve of training devices for the military, like jet plane simulation. 

It is now making a comeback to consumer games, because of the fast increased computing power of miniaturised devices, and their high resolution screens. Also, Wi-Fi and Cloud can act as Storage.

There are out of the box solutions, making use of devices you might already have. Check this, the Oculus device for making a Samsung phone into a virtual reality device:

By sliding a phone into with a wearable box with two magnifying lenses, you use the high definition Samsung screen to input software provided by Oculus, the Facebook funded company. 
The built-in lens of camera phone also allows to superpose the artificial and the real. Remarkable!

The main reason reason however for me to take an interest, is that Olympus mentioned wearable glass a a future interface for cameras. Imagine a WiFi link between camera and Glass, instead of using a smartphone. Wouldn't it be more natural in the long run than sticking an odd, and expensive EVF to its Pens? 

Google Glass was not born for Photography though. "It's a pretty crappy 5MP cell phone camera - there's not much else to say. It's ok when you have some sunlight and a muddled mess when you don't." says AndroidPolice

First you say "Show the viewfinder", then "Take a picture". Here are the main voice commands:

The most successful apps at the moment  include a Moving Map indicator, which can tell where you are, and direct you through the road system. You input the data with your voice. "Get directions to..." will fire up the app and start navigation to your destination. Just like your phone on Android, you can direct it to a specific business, search for a type of business, or speak a whole address.

You also have the regular Google Search, although presentation of the results by Cards, makes it somehow messy and laconic, says AndroidPolice.
Certainly you can also dictate an e-mail and send it with a vocal command to Gmail. By the same token it is easy to send the images you took with the 5 Mpx Glass to Google Galleries (Picasa?). You can also do short bursts of 720p.

Another  app being developed will help you speed up check ins at British airports, another will act as a guide to the Sixtine Chapel, the Egyptian Museum of Turin, and other Italian museums, by using facial recognition on the mummies, or the paintings! It is difficult to tell however what is already there, and what is just planned. Will it also be able to translate presentations and street signs? Or even pick up a conversation in Japanese and translate it?

Meanwhile Photography  got me interested in a crowdfunding device that will soon hit the market: the Bublcam:

This camera is the size of a baseball, and has 4 lenses that cover 360°. It was designed in order to allow  iimage swipng  across a smartphone. Proprietary software allows to stitch the 4 images in a circular image, which covers all of your surroundings. 

If that was linked up to am Oculus device, imagine the immersive effect! Perhaps we are at the verge of  blending natural vision and machine one, in high definition. Have a taste here:

To have a further idea yet look at these 360° pictures of the Mundial and its stadiums in Brazil, by photog. Henri Stuart. You can swipe to your heart's content. Here the post:

and here, choose one of his  pictures, and swipe it !:

There is already a minor alternative to bubl, the CENTR:

So are we finally overcoming the limitations of the frame? Frames were invented in Europe just before the Renaissance to allow merchants to have their portraits made,  bought and carried away. But long before that painters were paid by bishops and abbots to make  frescoes of the Saints  covering whole walls of Churches with visualizations of the Bible: far more immersive. With 360° cameras we are back to the beginning.

What will happen to Photography, as we knew it,  will it stand a chance? It's rather traditional cameras that are in danger, I am reminded about Marcel Duchamp's words about the camera some day becoming as outdated as Painting. 

Note that according to a specialised site, Optical Vision Site there are 39 companies  flexing their muscles in the new Wearable Viewer market and that sales have doubled every year:

Meanwhile imagine to hold a Bubl ball in your hands high above your head, documenting your surroundings for your wearable glass, and uploading them by WiFi to the Cloud.  In California a journalism course has been already lauched based on Google Glass.

It would certainly change holiday photography, and a lot more: it would be an experience akin to Life-Logging. You could blend your images of monuments and temples with those of other users.

Sometimes I am scared by such an intrusive future coming soon, and yet I welcome the Glasses as a more interesting viewing device than a smartphone. Imagine the prices were similar. If I had the choice, I would go for the Glass, since it can take and make calls too anyway. And you, what would YOU prefer?

Much of this bounty however will depend on available app in the Android ecosystem, and the development of more powerful  batteries. So far Google has kept strict control on third party applications, but these are early times. 
The Battery allegedly lasts 1-2 hours. Needs more juice, to become your permanent wearable computer. So far it just shuts down like an ordinary phone. But it wakes up if you nod 30° upwards!

Google Apps are updating at a monthly rate, so chances are that you won't recognize your Glass after a few months. it's a kind of Transformer thing.

Photokina is now looming: we'll see what comes up then. Or perhaps Photokina being more a more traditional camera show. the new consumer devices will emerge beginning of next year at CES in Las Vegas? 

Will traditional cameras stand the attack, or is it the beginning of the End? Smartphones are already nibbling at a 20%  yearly rate at camera sales each year worldwide, according to a preliminary Photokina's report. Glass might be the kiss of death, unless Olympus develops itself a wearable device specific for cameras.

Note however that mirrorless (ILC) is faring better:

There are however some no-nos about wearable glass. You don't wear it near restrooms, lest they take you for a voyeur. But if you want the full criticism, have a look at the 35 arguments against it:

Some arguments are quite wacky, and luddite.  Other concerns are quite real, basically about privacy and the use that Google might do about your personal data, that you must input in the device in order to make it work.  For instance there's a difference between using anonymously Gmail, and inputting your real name in Google+. Google would like to feed the Contacts side with real names, if only for the sake of brevity.

However petty criminals  could use the device to blackmail unaware celebrities, although paparazzi did that  already there with their plain cameras. But with Glass, how can people tell if you are shooting them or not? Also don't forget that you have Google Search at your fingertips in the Glass. You can actually be guided to a person or a shop!

So there are also etiquette concerns of all kinds - smart restaurants refusing use, and safety issues. Although freeing both hands you can't superimpose virtual reality to what you are driving through, without risking an accident, because of the different planes of visualization and attention. Is it why Googles is introducing automated driving? The application is there, but  it is not yet legal. Both the US and the UK have prohibited driving  while wearing the glass.

 Glass  will make the wearer feel like an omnipotent  'photographer' with the Third Eye,  always at the ready for a shot, by a vocal command, or even a discrete tap on the touchpad of the frame. But will he/she be a photographer or just a camera wearer?

I am particularly interested in user experience. How often do you use it?Please feel free to use the e-mail module here affixed. Other users of this site could also comment if they find the new devices desirable or not.
More importantly, do you think that this mode of visualization, this mingling of the artificial and the real, will be the end of cameras, if not of Photography?

The Daily Telegraph just announced the opening of an Amazon shop in Britain dedicated to wearable technology, and it published the latest market forecasts:

"Wearable technology has already emerged as one of the top tech trends of the year. Deloitte predicts than 10 million wearable devices will ship globally in 2014, from sophisticated gadgets to smart textiles and skin patches.
In a recent survey of 6,000 individuals by consulting company Accenture, 46 per cent expressed interest in buying smartwatches, while 42 per cent said they'd be interested in purchasing internet-connected eyeglasses, such as Google Glass.
The global market for wearable technology was reportedly worth $2.7 billion (£1.6bn) in revenue in 2012 and is expected to reach $8.3 billion (£4.9bn) in 2018."

Finally you could control Glass and shoot pictures, even by mind control, i.e. concentration, by associating Glass  to an EEG reader through an app, called MindRDR

Don't believe? See this fascinating article here at BBC:
"An EEG headset can be used to measure when certain parts of the brain show a greater level of activity.
In this case, the MindRDR software monitors when the wearer engages in high levels of concentration.

Within Google Glass's "screen" - a small window that appears in the corner of the wearer's right eye - a white horizontal line is shown.

As a user concentrates, the white line rises up the screen. Once it reaches the top, a picture is taken using Glass's inbuilt camera."

Please check the BBC video, to see how the thing works, it's amazingly simple. To send a piccie you just think the same thing twice, and the picture gets sent to a pre-programmed address.
The thing is meant for paraplegics and people 'walled inside' and it's really a hack, not recognized by Google.
But who knows, one day you could take a pic by thinking deeply about your mother in law. Never say never :)


  1. The thinking control thing is impractical with EEG. Otherwise interrogation would be completely changed and lie detectors will become a thing of the past soon. Just a case in point: The distance between neuron sites that think 'stop' and 'start' are a few nanometers. That device with a pad on the forehead might be amazing, but it's completely unrealistic to expect nanometer resolution deep into the brain with that.

  2. Your choice of font is very unpleasant and hard to read, just my 2 cents...

  3. "There is no way of framing beforehand, so you shoot blindly, until you get the frame you want!"

    You may want to update your information, as this is no longer true. The XE18.3 update, which was released last month, adds the command, "show the viewfinder", which allows accurate framing for photos and video.