From Project Ara to Wave, Google has a rich history of bailing on neat ideas when the going gets tough. Yet unlike those forgone experiments, Google’s augmented reality glasses apparently aren’t doomed to spend eternity in a metaphorical graveyard.
Instead, Google is tip-toeing its spiritual successor to Glass back into the wild. After teasing the smart glasses in May, Google said today that it is moving forward with “small-scale,” “limited” public tests, carried out by Google employees and “select trusted testers.”
Featuring cameras, microphones and in-lens displays, the devices will provide language translation and navigation features, but “they’ll have strict limitations on what they can do,” AR product manager Juston Payne cautioned in a blog post. The “prototypes don’t support photography and videography, though image data will be used to enable experiences like translating the menu in front of you or showing you directions to a nearby coffee shop,” Payne added. On a separate help page, Google also said it won’t conduct tests in places like government offices, hospitals or schools.
In other words, if you happen to see Google’s new AR prototypes when you’re out and about, Google wants you to know that it is (ostensibly) baking privacy into the product. That’s a sharp shift from Google Glass circa 2012, which could subtly record users’ surroundings and were showcased via an over-the-top skydiving stunt. This time around, it seems like Google would rather avoid sparking a mini-culture war in the San Francisco Bay Area over face cameras.
“As we continue to explore and learn what’s possible with AR, we look forward to sharing more updates,” Payne wrote, offering no specifics on the hardware, pricing or a future release.
Augmented reality glasses have yet to catch on like evangelists once said they would, but plenty of tech companies are still trying to make them happen. Niantic and Snapchat both showed off unreleased pairs of smart glasses last year, and Apple may also have an AR headset in the works. Facebook-owner Meta, meanwhile, is reportedly walking back plans to widely release AR specs, in an apparent cost-cutting measure.