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Google Glass allows explorers a glimpse of the future

By Paul Swiech, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 11--BLOOMINGTON -- "OK, Glass, take a picture of Holly and Reinhart."

Oz Toledo was wearing eyeglass frames without lenses but with an earpiece and stem attached to the right side of the frame and a viewer attached to the top of the frame over the right eye.

Using a voice command, he had just taken a picture of his wife and 8-month-old son.

"I like to take candid pictures. They're more real" than pictures that result after people get out their smartphones or traditional cameras, Toledo said. In those few seconds, images may be lost, especially when busy 8-month-old boys are involved, he said.

Toledo, 25, in his rural Bloomington home, was demonstrating fledgling technology that is increasing in popularity.

Google Glass is a small computer attached to eyeglasses.

With a camera and small display screen over the right eye, users -- using voice activation or a touch pad on the frame's right side -- may take photographs, record video, read and respond to email and text, surf the Web, get directions and translate phrases.

Glass does what a smartphone can do, said Toledo and Eric Bellas, 33, of Bloomington, another Glass user.

"It's basically a computer that goes on your head," Bellas said.

Bellas and Toledo are Google Glass Explorers. Glass is not yet widely for sale. Instead, Google is selling Glass to "explorers."

For Google, the explorer phase is an opportunity to get feedback on a prototype. To explorers, the phase is a chance to test new technology.

"Anytime you can live in the future and gain experiences, there's an advantage to that," Bellas said.

Meanwhile, people with prescription lenses may get them fitted to Google Glass frames. Google Glass Preferred Providers in The Pantagraph area are Eyecare Associates and Bloomington Family Eyecare Center, both in Bloomington.

"Almost anything that you might do on your cellphone, you can do with Google Glass as you're walking around and it's hands-free," said Dr. Wilson Movic of Eyecare Associates, who became an authorized provider after completing a training in New York City in January.

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But Toledo, Bellas and Movic -- like any pioneers using new technology -- see its advantages and disadvantages.

Bellas and Toledo applied online to be explorers because they're interested in how the latest technology can be used to enhance lives. Movic has an interest in continuing education.

Bellas received his Glass in May 2013 and Toledo received his in February 2014. The cost was $1,500 plus taxes.

Both men use Glass in their personal lives -- not at work. Bellas works at State Farm and Toledo for the city of Bloomington.

Bellas primarily uses Glass to take pictures. For example, he used it last summer to take pictures while playing catch with his son Logan, 6.

"Because it's hands free, it allows you to get angles and perspectives that you couldn't get before," Bellas said.

Toledo takes pictures of his wife and son and hopes to use it while turkey hunting in Missouri.

"You get the first-person feel of being out there in nature," he said. Pictures may be uploaded to Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.

For both men, it's also a communication tool, as they use it to check and respond to emails and texts. For example, during a Pantagraph interview, Toledo received a text from his wife that appeared on the Glass display screen and he responded using voice, which she received as text on her smartphone.

Bellas has tested the navigation tool walking around downtown Bloomington. Glass users may identify locations to get directions to them via voice prompts or a small map that appears on the display screen.

Both Bellas and Toledo see the navigation app as a good tool for urban walkers.

But the navigation app as used by drivers is controversial, with some people concerned that drivers using a map that appears above their right eye would focus on that rather than the road.

Bellas has tried the navigation app while driving in Bloomington-Normal -- using voice prompts, not the map -- but has never put himself in a situation where he's relying on it.

"The idea is to put the technology closer to your face," Bellas said. "But like any technology, it can be distracting. I don't like anything (beyond the road) in my field of view when I'm driving, so I haven't used it."

Toledo said, "I've used the map and it does get distracting, so I tend not to use it."

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As for concerns that Glass users could violate privacy by taking pictures or videos, Bellas responded that the same argument could be made against smartphones.

"Google Glass is not inconspicuous," he said. "It's obvious that the user has a camera on his head."

The cost -- $1,500 -- is a downside, especially for prescription lens wearers who would have to pay for new lenses and frames in addition to Glass, Bellas and Toledo said.

For example, Toledo -- who also wears contact lenses -- went to Movic so Glass could be fitted to his prescription lenses and new frames. That's costing him another $400, not counting what insurance is covering.

Another downside is the brief, two-hour battery life.

"But it would get uncomfortable wearing it all day," Bellas said, nothing that it's slightly heavier on the right side.

"When I do wear it, a lot of people want to know what it is and are amazed," Toledo said.

But will Glass connect or distract people from the world?

"It's certainly going to help us to get more done. The information will be right here," Movic said, pointing above his right eye.

Whether it will help or interrupt interaction among people will depend on how the technology is used, he said.

"For people and companies who want experience with wearable devices, Google Glass is a great start," Bellas said.

"This has been a great process," Bellas said. "Personally, long-term, I'd be more inclined to wear a smart watch. But I wouldn't rule out Google Glass if it improves. It has proven that wearable devices will become more common than the smartphone in the future."

Since he became a preferred provider, only three people have asked Movic to fit their lenses and new frames to Glass. But he knows demand will increase.

"Google Glass is version one," Movic said. "There will be others and they will be smaller and lighter. It's the first stage of what will be the standard."

___

(c)2014 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

Visit The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) at www.pantagraph.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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