Google Glass everywhere right now, people have started to ask me: so what was it really like?
They're talking about the head mounted display Tom and I wore on our skiing expedition to the South Pole in 2001. Back then, our technology was so weird that most people didn't ask anything at all.
Wearable computers (not to be confused with wearable technology such as smart clothes) is about omnipresent computing: the freedom to go anywhere and do anything with computer power that normally is tied to a desk or home environment.
We wore a computer on our hips, a mouse in our pocket, and the glass was our screen. We did it not to show off but because we had no other choice.
Back then, before smartphones and PDAs, this was our only chance to keep comms tech operational (warm) on an unsupported, full skiing trip across the ice to the pole. What couldn't freeze we had to carry on our bodies. And so we did.
Reading about the stir developers create today wearing Google glass in public brings back memories of our Bluetooth device attracting scores of Asians on an transfer airport in Iceland. We did in fact the first BT transmission on the continent. Mostly to awe our sponsor, Ericsson.
So how was the "glass", then? Pretty cool actually. I got used to the screen fast enough (it doesn't project on your retina, it's just a small screen floating before your eye). The eye piece could be adjusted to see-through mode, meaning the greenish text floated in open air sort off, not obstructing my view. There were pictures and we could even talk to it.
And yet we threw it all out with the arrival of the first PDA. The glasses were just too bulky to wear all the time.
New technology often needs time to catch on and I can see a future for Google glass today. It will come down to how sleek and useful they are. A stylish design paired with all the wonders of augmented reality - what's not to love?
I will have to wait and see. I did apply for a Google Glass developer kit but never heard back :)
How did it all work out? Take II, Tom says:
Great actually. We did some 100 dispatches from the equipment and several hundred images near live to the web. A bunch of tech firsts: first bluetooth network from an expedition, first wearable expedition, first head mounted display (HUD) etc.
Preparations were extremely difficult. There was no "ready-to-go" setup and we spent several months full time just to get the gear to work. Making new cables and changing bios became daily chores.
We wore our setups at all times on the ice and slept with the tech in the sleeping bags to keep it warm. So it was a continous 2 month "living with wearables" experience that was unique at the time and still is.
The tech was fun but also a bit overwhelming. It wasn't really practical to do dispatches and ski at the same time. You had to stop, switch the computers on etc, it wasn't as seamless as we had wished for.
In a way the experience can be compared to texting and driving: it's difficult to combine two thought processes. Even though one is conscious (operating computer) and the other is habitual/unconscious (skiing) we noticed that the conscious part overrode the "autonomous" system. We kept deviating or just stopping skiing when operating the wearable tech.
Our gear list:
HUD (VGA Heads Up Display, Eye-trek Glasses by Olympus)
Wearable Windows 98 computers
Daylight flat panel display
Customized Technology wests
Shoulder Mounted Web Camera
Bluetooth near person network
Iridium data over satellite
Control and Command voice software
CONTACT blogging software
Image editing, word processing
Total weight including power and cables app. 7 kg (15 lbs).
During a pitch meeting with Ericsson we drew a stickman (actual picture) of our vision of the "future" explorer. A windows machine at the waist, an eye display, a wrist-keyboard and solar power.
Before we knew it we were there. We could send files between us through our small bluetooth network and upload images on our customized blogging software (what is now CONTACT - the first Glass App?) We used text satellite connection (Iridium was bust).
During the 60 days unsupported expedition from the coast to the South Pole, I skied with a wearable VIA computer (running full version of Windows 98) tucked around my waist. I wore a small head mounted VGA display and used a "finger" mouse for control. The lot could also be controlled by voice command.
Tom wore the same computer set up but a touch pad screen in a chest harness. Input through a mini keyboard.
More weird stuff: wearable antenna and our trademark nose-mounted compass that has yet to catch on with the polar community (or Google).
We spent several months full time just to get the gear to work. Making new cables and changing bios became daily chores.