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Test Drive: What Life Looks Like Through Google Glass

Google offered its first in-depth talk about their Project Glass glasses, and gave us a chance to try them on. Here's what they're like in their prototype phase.

The sky-diving, bike-jumping, building-scaling demonstration for Google Glass was, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, "a nutty idea that somehow became real." But most people can assume that applies equally to Google's cloud-connected, instant-awareness glasses themselves.

Brin said in a briefing at Google I/O today that he and the Glass team have been wearing early "Explorer Edition" Glass glasses for a few months. The titanium band is light and wearable all day, team members agreed, and Brin said Glass "makes you less of a slave to your device." Glass gives you notifications, show you what time it is, take pictures, and show pictures of friends' experiences.

"It's been really liberating," Brin said. "(Glass is) something that replaces much of what we do with a smartphone. It covers ... things you want to do often, that are not a very involved attraction."

Glass is only available for pre-order to developers who attended this year's I/O conference, for $1,500, and they don't arrive until early 2013. The consumer edition should arrive "less than a year" after that, Brin said, and, while they'll be "significantly less" than the developer cost, they will be "a premium kind of thing."

Why would anyone but the most self-involved, distraction-addicted person want to keep a Glass headset on? Glass' team leaders emphasized numerous times that the design involves having the interaction slightly above the normal field of vision: look up if you want, or keep focused on cutting up carrots for dinner. Brin took two pictures of the assembled press, so quickly and subtly that nobody in the room seemed to notice. And Steve Lee, product manager for the Google X labs and for Glass, noted that Glass allowed him to take more than 1,000 photos of a six-hour bicycle race, but he ended up sharing just a few of those photos, and assembling a 20-second time lapse video from the ride.

What's it's like to be wearing Glass? I had a chance to wear a demonstration pair for a minute or two. They are indeed light and almost unnoticeable in terms of weight and peripheral material. The screen where your images, videos, and notifications would go (these pair only showed a pretend friend's live video of fireworks) is quite outside your normal field of vision. It's there, and it's slightly translucent, but unless you very deliberately raise your eyes, it's just a notification, much like those that pile up in the corners of your computer desktop. When you're doing other things, that bit of glass is basically not there.

But we don't know exactly what Glass can do and show us yet, other than pictures and video. There's no definite set of features, though Brin said (and a very early concept video showed) that Google staff have tested text messages, email, directions, and other data sets.

Glass lead designer Isabelle Olsson said it was a somewhat intentional choice. The glasses are designed to become an almost unnoticeable second nature to the wearer—Olsson said she sometimes goes to find them in the morning, not knowing they're already on—but they couldn't be entirely invisible.

"We want to be honest, and we don't want to conceal it behind something that people will find creepy," Olssson said. Told in a pointed question that the glasses would look "extremely odd in any town in America," Olsson noted that the Glass project has collaborations with sunglasses, prescription glasses, and other forms in mind. For this early stage, though, the glasses are "something new," and "it takes some time for society to develop an etiquette with new technology."

Glass owners can control what gets uploaded to people's personal clouds, what notifications are shown, and which images are available to other Glass owners. So, at first, people will know you're wearing them, and you're intended to forget that. It does sound a little nutty, and possibly very cool for the right type of adventurer.