Google X Introduces Project Glass to Students

UCSD alumnus Steven Lau returned to campus on Feb. 11 to give a tech talk about Google X’s Project Glass, where he works as a senior software engineer and project leader.

The talk was held in the Computer Science and Engineering building, Room 1202, where most tech talks take place. The room, which seats about 150, was packed with over 200 students by the time the event started at 7 p.m.

Lau graduated from Revelle College in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and received his master’s degree in computer science from UCSD through the five-year master’s program. After working at several large and small startup businesses, he joined Google X about eight months into the project.

Officially called Google X Lab, Google X is a separate group within Google made up of engineers, designers and inventors. The secret lab is overseen by Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin and works on future technologies, such as the self-driving car and Project Glass.

“What Google X is trying to do is change humanity,” Lau said. “The primary goal is solving big problems.”

Project Glass, in its simplest form, is a pair of glasses with a battery, computer chips and an integrated heads-up display, or HUD — a transparent display in a person’s line of sight. It is Google’s attempt to bring wearable computing to the mass market. Glass can do almost everything a smartphone can, including give directions, receive notifications, take pictures, mediate social networking, and interact via voice recognition.

Lau repeatedly compared Project Glass to a driver’s rear view mirror to describe the transparent display.

Lau shared a story of a time when he was at dinner with his friends and family and everyone was on their phones. He explained that one of the main goals of Glass is to bring back human-to-human contact by moving social notifications into constant view and removing the phone, allowing people to look up and converse with others. Lau believes Glass is the next step in the evolution of communication and information that introduced devices like the telegraph and smartphone to the masses.

When asked what the hardest part of developing Glass was, Lau pointed to the miniaturization of components into something wearable. He said the Glass team worked to create a new prototype almost every two months, starting from scratch every time.

Lau also pointed to the scope of the user interface (UI). He said the team constantly added, stripped away and redesigned features and design elements.

“I think I’ve written seven UI’s and thrown out six,” Lau said.

At last year’s Google I/O developer conference, the company took pre-orders from developers of Project Glass for $1500 of what they called the “explorer edition.” Lau said preorders of the developer edition will ship later this year, followed by a later commercial release.