Google Glass used to be a device for which people got nicknamed “glassholes” for, with a limelight of about a year. As the year is coming to an end, Google Glass resurfaces as Project Aura, the augmented reality headset. In a patent awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to Google, we get an early glimpse into what Google engineers have been working on in the past 5 years or so. The new version of Glass, now interestingly named Project Aura, is still an awkward-looking device that won’t go unnoticed, but it will be much more refined than the original Explorer consumer version ever was. In a bid to give Microsoft’s HoloLens a real competitor, Project Aura aims to vastly improve upon the hardware and software capabilities of Google Glass by using higher-end technology and a well-developed software.
Once you look at the short-lived history of Google Glass and what impact it had, you may realize that while the concept was good, its implementation was flawed and the design was obnoxious – at the time. The world wasn’t ready for “glassholes”, and the tech wasn’t all there either. The Google Glass Explorer program was halted in January 2015, after the high price, poor performance and looming privacy and security issues of the wearable sent the project down the drain. Or so it appeared, at first. Project Aura was announced shortly after and while it was not clear from the start that the two had any connection to each other, the Google Glass patent confirms the connection.
Appointing Tony Fadell as head of Project Ara development added a new angle to Google Glass and what it stood for and reinforced that although the wearable had originally been an experiment which could be dropped, it had the potential to become a product consumers would not end up mocking. Seeing as the Explorer program began in 2013 and died just over a year later, it had been made clear to Google that Glass, in that state, had no place on the consumer market. So Glass was pulled and kept as an enterprise solution, while the team focused on improving the wearable and turning it into Project Aura, the future of Google Glass.
Patents awarded don’t guarantee products on the market, but the buzz around Google Glass and Project Aura has been intensifying. There are quite a few chances that within a year, we are going to be able to test the first prototypes of a new HoloLens competitor. Microsoft’s augmented reality headset made waves when it was announced, thanks of course to the visually impressive demo videos that the company released as well as the hype created around the company after Windows 9 suddenly became Windows 10 out of the blue and the Spartan browser first got in the limelight. Google and Microsoft are getting closer as competitors as both companies began dwelling in wearables, virtual reality, augmented reality, console gaming and creating their own ecosystem.
Microsoft and Google both have their innovations in various departments, Microsoft raising impressive aces with Office 365, Cortana, Azure and Continuum and Google integrating hardware and software with Android Wear, Google Cardboard, Android One and more. But when it comes to sales and revenue in the mobile device department, they`re both behind Apple, regardless of innovation. Project Aura and Microsoft HoloLens are the means through which these companies can disrupt as much as Apple. Augmented reality is a field relatively absent in the media, despite the innovative nature of both these devices being hyped for so long. HoloLens development is moving along nicely, and Project Aura seems to be bound to catch up.
The patent listings explaining what Project Aura is and how it is supposed work differently than Google Glass reveal a device that still has a flawed design, but makes up for it with a refined user interface and more usable, practical features for enterprise and casual customers at the same time. With a design based around the usage pattern of a monocle, Project Aura looks just as ridiculous as Google Glass, but smaller. Although the monocle design with the rectangular hardware, positioned to cover the wearer’s eyebrow, seems like a more minimalist and practical approach than the glasses approach of the first generation, it still looks futuristic and alludes to how one would imagine security officers in a post-apocalyptic 1984 monitored wirelessly by a tyrant government. Nonetheless, it’s a step in the right direction.
With a curvy handle that slides behind your ear holding the monocle of Project Aura in place, the entire device looks a lot like a robot-worm. The odd shape will however facilitate a comfortable fit to any wearer’s head, in a bid to eliminate concerns of it falling and breaking. The side of the device is housing a touchpad and its hardware, which will be used to interact with the device. The main way Project Aura and its wearer will be communicating however will be voice commands. In a similar fashion to HoloLens, Project Aura will firstly be aimed at the Enterprise and industrial segments of the market. With 3D augmented reality projections overlapping the real world, it’s the most sensible way to market the wearable.
Although it would be an interesting experience to hang around a consumer version of Project Aura, it doesn’t suit consumer tasks. Project Aura will be made with designing, architecture, management, financial and maybe even journalism purposes in mind, leaving little room for the wearable to fulfill tasks like social media, entertainment or casual media consumption and interaction. With miniatural hardware and specialized software applications, Google Glass was already a device aimed at the Enterprise – releasing it as a consumer device was just a test. I don’t t hink Google ever meant this wearable to be a consumer gadget.
Although the patent reveals little information about how Project Aura will work, it does stand as a bit of a guide to what Google engineers are working on, and what they could be aiming to create. Our best bet is that at Google I/O 2016, we will at least have a prototype of Project Aura to test. Until then, we’re going to be on lookout for more info, because this does sound like a product Microsoft and Google will eventually have disputed over.