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Startup glasses overlay Internet on real world
by Staff Writers
Mountain View, California (AFP) May 30, 2013

Google nixes face-recognition features in Glass eyewear
San Francisco (AFP) June 1, 2013 - Google late Friday put out word that it won't add face-recognition features to Glass, in a bow to privacy fears raised about the camera-enabled Internet-connected eyewear.

"We won't add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place," Google said in an online message aimed at software developers creating applications for Glass.

"With that in mind, we won't be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time," the message continued, revealing how the company intends to refer to software designed for the devices.

In May, a group of US lawmakers asked Google to answer questions on the privacy implications and possible "misuse of information" of its Glass project.

Eight US lawmakers in the Congressional Privacy Caucus sent a letter saying they are "curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American."

The lawmakers asked Google to provide information about how it would collect and use data from the Internet-linked eyewear, which has been tested by a small group of users and is expected to hit the market later this year.

Some small establishments in the United States have vowed to ban Glass due to worries about how being able to discreetly take pictures or video might be seen as invasive by patrons.

Facebook and Twitter have already launched applications Google glasses.

Several major news organizations have also tailored applications for Glass, which has only been made available to developers and a limited selection of "explorers" who paid $1,500 each for the eyewear.

Envisioned uses range from practical tasks such as shopping or delivering local weather reports to sharing real time video streams of riding cable cars or playing augmented reality games in which the world is the board.

"We've been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass," the California-based Internet titan said in message to 'explorers.'

"We've learned a lot from you in just a few weeks and we'll continue to learn more as we update the software and evolve our policies in the weeks and months ahead.

Glass lets wearers take pictures, record video, send messages, or perform other tasks with touch controls or by speaking "Okay Glass" followed by a command.

Glass connects to the Internet using Wi-Fi hot spots or, more typically, by being wirelessly tethered to mobile phones. Pictures or video can be shared through the Google+ social network.

Google co-founder and chief Larry Page depicted Glass as part of an ongoing effort to get computers "out of the way" so people can focus on lives enriched by what the Internet has to offer.

"We want to make sure we are building experiences that make people really happy," Page said while speaking about Glass at a recent San Francisco gathering of developers.

While Google prepares to release eyewear that provides a window to the Web, a startup on the edge of its campus is readying glasses that overlay the Internet on the world in 3D.

Atheer Labs on Thursday provided the first public look at prototype eyewear that lets people manipulate virtual objects, maps and more in the air in a style reminiscent of a scene in the film "Minority Report."

"The whole idea is that technology is becoming smart enough to wrap itself around you," Atheer co-founder and chief executive Soulaiman Itani said while providing AFP a demonstration.

"It is an opportunity of taking the Internet and making it much more immersive, connected and helpful in a non-intrusive way; like our hidden guardian angel."

Itani and Atheer chief technology officer Allen Yang described what their team is building as an extension of the trend of sophisticated mobile technology bringing Internet services to people when they want.

"The next step, we believe, is natural interaction through computer vision," Itani said.

"We worked hard to do that in portable fashion," he continued. "This is like putting the Xbox and the Kinect and the Internet in your pocket running on a battery."

Atheer is working on versions of the eyewear that access the Internet by wirelessly connecting to smartphones or Wi-Fi hotspots and which have telecom chip capabilities to link to mobile phone networks.

A prototype device in the Atheer office in a building on the Google campus in the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View allowed a virtual map to be scanned with the turn of a head and virtual objects manipulated.

News stories could have images come alive with what Itani and Yang called "Harry Potter style" pictures.

"It is like the Internet now is stuck behind these windows we look through," Itani said. "Breaking that and putting it in 3D around you everywhere is a great shift."

He gave the example of a wearer pausing to window shop and having discounts, exclusive items or other information pop up for them to see.

Atheer is designing voice controls and camera capabilities into the Android-powered eyewear, which will keep Internet imagery invisible until it is needed or until summoned with a gesture.

"Our mobile 3D platform fundamentally alters the way people access information on the go, adding a natural interface that can be controlled with natural gestures and motions," said Itani.

To address the kinds of privacy concerns that have been expressed about Glass, Atheer is developing a way for businesses or property owners to detect when devices enter and ask that camera features be turned off.

"It is basically a system for letting people say that on their land, you can't take video without their permission," Itani said.

The system will include a way to verify if someone has disabled the eyewear camera.

"In the end, these things are really decided by society," Itani said. "Our role is to give them all the options.

Itani and Yang would not discuss what, if any, talks they have had with Google about their project.

"Google is really the pioneer in this field with Glass, and in many ways this complements that," Yang said.

Atheer is building a network of developers to craft useful or fun applications for the eyewear and partners for making the gear fashionable.

A product wasn't expected to be ready for consumers until next year.

Google Glass was a common sight early this month at a software developers conference in San Francisco, where software savants here shared visions of games, weather reports, news and more delivered to the Internet-linked eyewear.

Glass connects to the Internet using Wi-Fi hot spots or, more typically, by being wirelessly tethered to mobile phones. Pictures or video are shared through the Google Plus social network.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said recently that it will take "a while" before consumer versions of Glass are available.


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