Countless wearers of Google Glass stalked the halls of this year's Google I/O developer conference, but only a lucky few were sporting the prescription model, which makes room for lenses in a more conventional glasses frame. Among those lucky early adopters with imperfect vision was Thad Starner, a Georgia Tech professor who, in 2010, was recruited to join a top-secret project at Google's fabled X Lab. That project, as it turned out, was Glass, and Starner's role on the team as a technical lead would be a vital one.
Starner invented the term "augmented reality" in 1990 and, after experimenting with wearable technologies for 20 years now, offered us a rare perspective on where the stuff has been and where it's headed. So, then, we were very glad to get a few moments to chat with the man at I/O and get his insight into how we got to be where we are and, indeed, get some suggestions from him on where we're going from here.
Starner says he's been wearing computer devices of some form or another daily for the past 20 years, a claim that few others can make. Before becoming an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, he founded MIT's Wearable Computing Project. It's in these years that he made the acquaintance of a pair of grad students named Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The group had discussions about the future of search and, given Starner's tech persuasions, how wearables might fit in to that:
We talked about how it would make you more powerful if you could have web search on your eyeball ... One of the problems was simply making a search engine that was good enough that the right hit was in the first four links, versus AltaVista which was the first 14 links. That took way too long to navigate.
They went their separate ways, Starner continuing to refine his wearable prototypes while Page and Brin built themselves a little search engine. After about a decade, Starner thought that it was time to reconnect:
About 2010, I sent Sergey an email saying, "Now that you guys are doing Android and you're doing these phones, you should really take a look at the wearable computing technology that we've been working on in academia. Why don't you come out to Atlanta and I'll show this stuff to you?" Next thing I know I'm on a plane out [to Google Headquarters] to join the Glass team. They had the same kind of thoughts. The time was right. The next thing you know I'm working on it too, making the early prototypes.
The term "augmented reality" comes from Starner's earlier work, a 1990 fellowship proposal. (Fun fact: this wasn't actually Starner's preferred term. "Artificial reality" had already been used by Timothy Leary to describe a drug-induced state.) However, his concept of a life augmented by technology is rather different than the "AR" that we generally think of when describing things like the Layar browser.
Starner's term for augmented reality simply referred to "information .....................