Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

One In The Eye For Google Glass

If memory serves me correctly it was in 1978 that the digital camera was invented by a researcher at Kodak - remember them?  Only the pre-eminent popular camera and film maker of all time.  I think they're still scratching a living out of tertiary photographic products, but for sure, Kodak aren't the mega-company they once were.  It was, of course, digital photography that brought them to their knees and I'm guessing they probably promoted the guy who invented digital photography.

To be fair to Kodak they did realise fairly early on that their dominance of the film market would count for naught in the digital age and did try to leverage their reputation onto the new media, but sometimes the consumer decides it wants a new leader.

That first camera had an incredibly poor resolution and was basically a rudimentary lens coupled up to a sensor linked to a portable hard drive.  It took something like 30 seconds for the image, grainy that it was, to write to the hard drive and you wouldn't want to flick through an album comprising of similar standard images, even if you had the time to take them.  The camera was hardly portable, either, so you wouldn't be thinking of carrying it around with you.  It probably ran off the mains electric as well.  But crucially, Kodak had proven the principle and that was all that matters.  Proof of concept.

Today we've all got digital cameras in our phones and on our laptops.  I've got two on the Microsoft Surface RT I'm typing this up on, one to keep an eye on me, the other to look at what's behind the screen.  The resolution on the RT is acceptable - it'll beat the living pants off the original Kodak camera but it is far inferior to the images obtainable from pretty much any one of the main mobile phones available, let alone purpose designed cameras.

Now we're braced for the camera being used in the Google Glass product.  Of course most of us have only seen the promotional images on the Google Glass website, which isn't exactly the least biased source of information.  I have to raise my hand at this point and state that I'm personally a little sceptical about the Google Glass screen concept - I can take the camera idea and recognise that it will be pointing at whatever you point your head at, but being able to view images such as photos you've taken, sat nav maps and so on - well I'm unconvinced.  Look at it this way, put your finger where the Google Glass lens appears to be located on the images Google have shown us and try and focus on your finger.  I'm fairly confident your finger, while recognisable, will be pretty blurred.  I'm struggling to see how any of us will be able to use the Glass product that close to the face.

But the speculation may be short lived as hot on Google's tails comes Samsung.  They want to produce a wearable computer and their vision - if you'll pardon the pun - is even closer than Google's.  They've been working with a number of universities to design a wearable camera built into a contact lens.  In fact they've suggested that their aim is to build a device in a contact lens that is capable of doing exactly what Google Glass can do, but right now they're just proving the technology.

The hurdle they've just overcome is to build a single pixel camera in a contact lens and then have a rabbit wear it for several weeks.  In case you're wondering, apparently rabbits have similar eyes to humans. They're also cheaper to use for trials and make a super stew afterwards. The trick is to sandwich the electronics in-between two layers of material suitable for contact lenses, or so it would seem.  Well, I still don't believe we will be able to focus on an image embedded in a contact lens, but even if it is 'just' a lens based camera then I think the fears about privacy being shouted about Google Glass will pale into insignificance.

However one pixel embedded in a contact lens is a long way from a working camera that can take photos of anything you look at.  Just like that first digital camera was in 1978.


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