Paul O'Brien

Third in our continuing series on living with Google Glass. Paul O'Brien is the founder of the UK-based MoDaCo.com, a longtime smartphone hacker and developer and an all-around good guy to know.

To date, Google has only made Glass available to Explorers in the United States. I’m not entirely sure why that is, it might be to do with certification, logistics, or perhaps the original idea of personally handing over Glass to each and every buyer.

Either way, it means that if you reside "over the pond" in the UK as I do, you’re out of luck for getting your own unit — your best option is a really good buddy who lets you try out their Glass.

But what’s it like using the ground-breaking device in the UK?

Reactions

While chatting to fellow Glass users, I’m often availed with stories of being frequently approached, questioned and asked for demos, as if a surprisingly large proportion of the populace knows exactly what Glass is. I don’t know how true that is (I suspect in culturally technology focused cities it happens more), but here in the UK while I have experienced that on a couple of occasions, the response is usually somewhat different.

Perhaps is those who aren't wearing Google Glass that are more conspicuous, trying their best to not look. 

First up: "The stare." This is by far the most common response to walking around wearing Glass (which, by the way, takes a little while to build up the courage to do regularly). People just look, in a "What on earth is that?" way. They don’t say anything, they just look.

Running a close second to the stare is "the averted look." Rather than be seen to be staring, some people look away from you when you’re walking around wearing Glass. They then try and sneak a glance when they think won’t be spotted doing so. It’s all about being British and reserved, you know.

A slightly more worrying response I’ve seen is the "are you recording?" question. I guess people see a camera on Glass and become naturally suspicious that they are being filmed. One could argue that the starers, and the averters are probably thinking this, too, but just don’t say it!

When you do tend to get the questions, interest or requests to "have a go" is when you either know the person, when you have broken the ice first, or when it’s that most uninhibited group of all — kids! While visiting a friendly recently wearing Glass, his son walked into the room, said "Wooooooooah, Google Glass!" and after having a go let it be known to his dad that they are now top of his Christmas list. Oops. :)

When you start a conversation about Glass, people are generally fascinated. If people do try it, most are blown away. Why wouldn’t they be? Glass is amazing.

The legalities

Driving with Google GlassGoogle Glass directions

There has been a lot of coverage in the press recently about a Glass Explorer from California who was ticketed for wearing Glass while driving (well, and while speeding). She has challenged the ticket and it looks set to go to court, but with Glass effectively not available in the UK yet, we haven’t seen any similar cases here.

Is Google Glass any more distracting than all the other knobs and buttons in our cars?

Such a showdown looks inevitable, however, as back in July a Department for Transport spokesperson said “We are aware of the impending rollout of Google Glass and are in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving.” It seems pretty clear cut, but I think to ban Glass outright while driving would be a big mistake.

For me, Glass feels similar to the myriad systems that are in a car nowadays — with the same propensity for causing accidents or distracting the driver. It’s easy to cause an accident by fiddling with the various gadgets built into the car. But used responsibly, I think Glass can make for a safer driver. Today, Glass offers driving directions without looking away from the road. Tomorrow, who knows what Glass could bring. Accident warnings? Traffic notifications? Speed limit reminders? Imagine if Glass could read road signs as you drive around and display them on demand to remind you of the restrictions where you are currently driving. I think Glass could have great potential in car, and evidently vehicle manufacturers do too, with Ford and Mercedes (amongst others) experimenting with the technology.

Potential

One of the most incredible things about Glass as a developer is the potential it brings.

Word Lens for Google Glass

When I’m wearing Glass today, it already does some very cool things that are genuinely useful. I love the convenient picture and video snapping, live video calling, notifications, live data when riding my bike, all that stuff — but I know it could do so much more. The incredible "Word Lens" application that was recently released demonstrates the kind of potential Glass has, with real-time language translation before your very eyes.

Google’s recent release of the GDK (Glass Developer Kit) preview gives a wonderful insight into how easy it can be to develop Glass apps - for any existing Android developer the change to developing for Glass is very minor - apps will run with very minor changes. Arguably Google’s challenge at this stage is getting the attention of developers when the userbase is so small, but we all know that developers like to tinker with this kind of thing. Hey, i’ve already started experimenting with a bunch of apps for Glass myself when I have much less interesting things I should be doing.

Getting Glass ready for everyone else

Google Glass Apps

The question I get asked most about Glass is "will this really become a thing … is this the future?" My answer is always, "Yes, but not in it’s current form." For many people it’s surprisingly difficult to see past the nerdy glasses! As a custodian of Google’s pride and joy, I almost feel responsible for telling people that it will look more normal in the future, it will do even more, the battery life will be better, it won’t drain your phone battery so fast, it will become more socially acceptable, it will be a lot cheaper… and I’m saying all those things because I genuinely believe them. Google is really onto something here!

Update schedules

One final thought on Glass, and that’s around monthly update schedules. As Android users we’re very much used to application / OS updates dropping at random. If you’re anything like me, it’s quite fun to fire up the Play Store to see what apps are updated and then to dive in and see what’s new. Like an unexpected, free, treat. But Glass does it differently — Glass updates are released once a month and to be honest, I’m really liking that idea. You know an update is coming, you know it will probably contain some cool new stuff and it’s an exciting time as that part of the month rolls round. It’s like having 12 Christmas’ a year. :)

AQA

If you’d like to ask me anything about Glass or developing for Glass, you can catch me on Google+ or on Twitter.

More from our Through Glass series ...

 
There are 42 comments

Mac58 says:

Great read! Im liking these "through glass" articles

So am I! And they're making me want one more and more!

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brendilon says:

Glass can make for a slightly safer driving experience... Maybe. If you aren't using GPS, no, it doesn't. Period. If you are and your GPS is somewhere in an appropriate field of view for us, like on your dash, it's about the same. If you normally keep your GPS in your hand or mounted off the typical field of view, it can be safer.
The thing is, Glass is a lot more than GPS. There's a reason that smartphone and cellphone use is banned when driving. It's because people are only marginally responsible at best. They're typically as responsible as they feel they can get away with. They will tweet, check Facebook, play games and do all manner of spectacularly stupid things through Glass because they think they can get away with it.
What's more, an officer has no way of knowing what you were doing when you were using Glass. Were you playing a game? Was GPS on? Was it deactivated? No way to know.
Glass really is just a portal into a smartphone. It does many of the same things and puts those things in front of you, outside of your direct line of sight, but with no one having any way to know what you're doing with it.
The rise of the smartphone (or GPS units in general) has not resulted in any reduction in accidents, quite the opposite. To think that Glass will make the roads any whit safer is unrealistically and irresponsibly optimistic. Banning Glass while driving is no mistake, it is a reasonable and responsible requirement for drivers.

Winter is coming. She's quite the screamer.

paulobrien says:

I think saying that Glass is just a portal into a Smartphone is missing the point, in my opinion Glass is its own device that happens to leech off a phone for data connectivity when required.

Banning a phone in car makes sense because it's core function, phoning people, usually involves you taking your hands off the wheel and reducing concentration.

I'm in no doubt that legislation will be difficult, but as I said to ban outright would - in my opinion - be wrong.

P

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brendilon says:

Sorry, but how many people do you know for whom 'phone' is the primary function of their smartphone? That's a ridiculous argument.
Hands free is part of it, but it is the distraction that is the bigger part and really all you've said is basically that because it is hands free, it's okay, which it's not. There still hasn't been a reasonable and rational case made for why Glass should be an exception to the bans on mobile devices while driving.
When you're driving, your attention should be 100% on the road.

Winter is coming. She's quite the screamer.

paulobrien says:

Unfortunately replying on every post with your opinion doesn't necessarily make it right, we might have to agree to disagree.

People should absolutely be concentrating when driving, but if technology can improve safety - which I absolutely believe it can, a blanket ban is not the answer.

As others have said, in the UK at least, there are already laws which cover not paying attention while driving, specific legislation isn't necessary (and want happen). Not sure if there's broad laws in that way in the US though.

P

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paulobrien says:

Unfortunately replying on every post with your opinion doesn't necessarily make it right, we might have to agree to disagree.

People should absolutely be concentrating when driving, but if technology can improve safety - which I absolutely believe it can, a blanket ban is not the answer.

As others have said, in the UK at least, there are already laws which cover not paying attention while driving, specific legislation isn't necessary (and want happen). Not sure if there's broad laws in that way in the US though.

P

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leaponover says:

Buahaha right. So you should never look at your gas gauge, look at your speed, change directions, or look at warning lights. Only fools argue with blanket absolutes.

Litlprince2 says:

Im Sorry, How many people do you know that still uses TOM TOMs and Garmins. If its not installed in the vehicle most people are converting to use their phones for navigation. That being said my properly mounted Phone with Google maps running can easily be switched over to displaying a movie.

The point is by your standard if its not installed in the vehicle by the manufacturer in likely a inconvenient location that requires you to look away from the road but atleast contains a couple lines of code that keep it from displaying anything entertaining other then direction while the care is moving its good. But then again it requires you to look away from the road.. so its not good..

Eric Rossman says:

I think Glass can determine if you are the diver of the vehicle and only allow certain apps to function within a limited set of parameters. You are correct in thinking that if Google does nothing to craft the "driving mode" that people will sneak all manner of apps.
And I say: So what? Until that individual person is showing signs of driving distracted (you know like arguing bad directions from the Mrs, or the baby projectile vomiting) they should be left alone.

I personally want the lawmakers out of this though. There are already plenty of laws targeted at distracted drivers, lets not make Glass an immediate ticket.

I'm all for glass being used for GPS or maybe a way to play hands free music through car audio. But, I'd have to give the nod to lawmakers to ban it right off the bat. Its something they didn't do with cellphones. There are no statistics yet on how many accidents it has caused or how many deaths there have been because of it. And they are trying to prevent that from the start. Which is a good thing. Everyone has their opinions though, so to each their own.

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brendilon says:

If you're wearing Glass while driving, then you're driving distracted.
If GLASS could determine if you were the driver and only show GPS, that would be great. This would be a completely different discussion. But it can't and it isn't and until it can, it should be banned while driving.

Winter is coming. She's quite the screamer.

glazedfaith says:

Exactly. If you are driving recklessly, or obviously distracted, then the legislation already exists. You can't legislate safety. The stupid people WILL continue to put themselves and others at risk and just hide GLASS as soon as they see the police lights, and the responsible ones who know they were doing nothing wrong will get tickets when all they did was have GLASS on their head.

I see no reason why I should get a ticket for having a distraction-free way to answer and reply to calls and texts when cars are coming right off the assembly line with in-dash video players. If Google wants to implement a "driving" mode, then that is their decision, but there would soon be ways around it, especially considering the only difference between the driver and the passenger, to GLASS, would be what the video looks like.

brendilon says:

There is no such thing as a distraction a free way to answer phone calls and texts.

You're right about one thing, the legislation does exist. Glass falls under distracted driving, don't wear it while driving.

Winter is coming. She's quite the screamer.

glazedfaith says:

Wearing GLASS =/= distracted driving. You've already said exactly the point I was trying to make. The legislation exists and suggesting that the government create unnecessarily overlapping laws infringes upon my rights and yours, and needlessly clogs up the legislative branch of the government. If they want to ticket you for distracted driving, great. The onus is on THEM to prove you were distracted. "But how do they know?!" Just because they can't prove you were using GLASS at the time, they can still ticket you for reckless driving, as distracted drivers usually are.

By your logic, anything that could ever be used for anything should be made illegal. Why not require people to keep their cellphones in the trunk of their car? I mean, they can't be trusted anyway. And why stop there? From now on, all cars should have a separate, walled off driver's compartment, with a soundproof cabin. People can't be trusted, so more laws must be the way. Legislate all the activities!

leaponover says:

The thing that kills me about this statement is that you think banning Google glass based on irresponsible people is not stripping away responsible people's freedoms. It also cracks me up that you think banning it will suddenly make irresponsible people focused on driving, lmao. Irresponsible drivers are going to find something to distract them, and having Google glass on their face is safer than that cellphone in their lap.

Sean Kelly2 says:

I'd take a slightly difference stance on the issue of new motor vehicle laws. It is already a violation to drive distracted. If you get pulled over and it appears you are distracted, you may earn a ticket. By banning specific technologies all we are doing is cluttering up existing laws and making it a problem for those who would use the technology in a responsible manner.

More laws are rarely the correct answer; better education, technical solutions and enforcing existing laws is a better solution.

coolbreeze78 says:

Fiddling with my car's dash (touchscreen, GPS, etc) is far more distracting. Lawmakers are insta-banning this because they just don't understand what it's all bout. So the only reasonable solution is to knee-jerk make it illegal to use while driving.

They need to ban many other distractions first.

Rigelian says:

You're right, the dashboard GPS is a bit more distracting than Glass. Because it stays on, people have a tendency to steal glances at it for a longer period of time. In contrast the Glass navigation lights up just before their is a critical directional change to be made. Second, as you mentioned, there is a tendency to fiddle with the dashboard GPS to change functionality. Not so true with Glass.

brendilon says:

No, with Glass there's just the temptation to tweet, text, FB, etc while driving. That's not nearly as bad... *eye roll*

Winter is coming. She's quite the screamer.

glazedfaith says:

I may be mistaken, but can't GLASS read texts aloud and respond to voice commands? Isn't that the whole point? Now tell me how exactly that is MORE distracting as trying to pacify a screaming child (or two) in the back seat, while driving 70 miles per hour. I say we ban all children in automobiles...it's just too risky.

brendilon says:

If you're trying to pacify a screaming child while doing 70 on the freeway, you should be ticketed. Pull over and deal with the kid. Answer your texts later, no message you're getting is so critical and life-or-death that it can't be dealt with later.
I was wondering when some numb-nut would come along and say texting with Glass while driving is just fine.

Winter is coming. She's quite the screamer.

leaponover says:

Except for the text that tells you the bridge is out...can't look at the sign it's too distracting. Nuts on ice bro, nuts on ice.

Rigelian says:

I've had no temptation to tweet or FB while driving with Glass.

paulobrien says:

Likewise!

P

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daglesj says:

Nice article Pob!

paulobrien says:

Cheers Jason. ;-)

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A distraction is a distraction:google glass or a car dashboard,plain and simple. Needs to be illegal to wear while driving and if you cause a accident while wearing glass you should be treated as if you were under the influence of alcohol.

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paulobrien says:

Yeah, it's just the same... *groan*

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brendilon says:

You're right, it's not the same. My car dashboard doesn't play games, have twitter or do much beyond enable me to drive and control the interior environment.
It boggles my mind when members of the Technorati get so defensive of technology they can't see the common sense looking them right in the face. Glass is an amazing device. It absolutely should not be worn while driving though. To do so is wholly irresponsible.

Winter is coming. She's quite the screamer.

JakeHilltop says:

I absolutely agree. We had better remove GPS devices, radios, clocks, and other distractions from cars too.

Glass, phone, tablet or ANY other distraction is not safe for you, me or anyone else.

I'm in the car to drive...not to play with my toys.

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Cole Cadieux says:

for those that do have google glass say driving at night using the map destination feature does it work in low lit situations?

paulobrien says:

It uses auto brightness to drop the display brightness right down. It works well.

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ilovemagic says:

I agree, if used in the right manner Google Glass could mean safer driving. I like the idea of able to keep your eyes on the road and being and to see a map at the same time. On the other side of the coin there will be people who will abuse Google Glass and will be checking Facebook and Twitter. That being said I don't think they will ever be widely excepted for use while driving.

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nexusfive says:

Paul is such a legend, nice one! Glass still freaking weird though lol.

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paulobrien says:

:-)

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dalight13 says:

God Damn I just paid 4K to get rid of my glasses...

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DA6030 says:

What Glassware adds the "set a wireless state..." voice invocation shown in the screenshot? I've not seen that.

paulobrien says:

See the link in the main post to 'my first app'...

P

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I'll have to agree on the side of the law with this one as well as several others. You can do a count of how many people are looking down at their cell-phones while driving. Let's not accomodate them and make their life easier for something they shouldn't be doing in the first place. No one should be using their cell-phone while driving for anything really. Let's go back to using GPS units that aren't cell-phones even and just bring it to using a phone is a ticket period. That would make the roads safer. Answer a call in a break-down lane if you must or return the call later. We have gotten too free with what we think we should be capable of doing without care for others.

dalgibbard says:

Is using glass really all that different from using a hands-free kit? Does anyone here actually know what percentage of your vision is obscured, if any (of various degrees of opacity)?