Google’s major developer conference, Google I/O, went down this week. Was it a bit of a letdown? Probably. Did cool stuff still come out of the event? Eh? Maybe? We discuss these topics and more this week on the TC Gadgets podcast. In fact, we even had Frederic Lardinois join as a guest, along with John Biggs, Matt Burns, Jordan Crook (that’s me!), Romain Dillet, and Darrell Etherington as Bob McKenzie.
We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3pm Eastern and noon Pacific.
Intro Music by Rick Barr.
Google I/O 2013 is entering day two in San Francisco and a Google Glass developer session is happening right now. The focus is on the current Mirror API, which allows for online, web services-based apps that push simple content to the headset. This enables current apps like the New York Times. But, the Mirror API is quite limited, allowing only online apps and not providing any direct access to the Glass hardware. That’s changing, though, with Google announcing the Glass Developer Kit, or GDK. This will allow for Android apps that run directly on the Glass hardware, providing much greater functionality and offline access. When is it coming? “Sometime in the future” is the best we’re able to get.
If you’re attending Google I/O this week, you will be a part of an experiment from the Google Cloud Platform Developer Relations team. On its blog today, the team outlined its plan to gather a bunch of environmental information happening around you as you meander around the Moscone Center.
In the blog post, Michael Manoochehri, Developer Programs Engineer, outlines his team’s plan to place hundreds of Arduino-based environmental sensors around the conference space to track things like temperature, noise levels, humidity and air quality in real-time. This was spawned due to a fascination with wanting to know which areas of the conference were the most popular, so it will be interesting to see what the information the team gathers actually tells us.
At first glance, this seems a little bit creepy, but it’s no different than a venue adjusting the cooling system based on the temperature inside at any given moment. As with anything that Google does, this could have implications for tracking indoor events or businesses in the future, as Manoochehri shared:
Networked sensor technology is in the early stages of revolutionizing business logistics, city planning, and consumer products. We are looking forward to sharing the Data Sensing Lab with Google I/O attendees, because we want to show how using open hardware together with the Google Cloud Platform can make this technology accessible to anyone.
Notice the wrap-up of wanting to show people how open hardware combined with Google’s Cloud Platform benefits everyone. Ok, sure. What could data like this mean for businesses, though? Well, a clothing store would be able to track how many people came in and browsed, which areas of the store were hot-spots for interest and then figure out how their displays converted. It’s like real-world ad-tracking. It makes sense, but still seems a long way off.
What will be interesting is not each dataset that is collected, but what all of them tied together tell us about our surroundings:
Our motes will be able to detect fluctuations in noise level, and some will be attached to footstep counters, to understand collective movement around the conference floor.
Of course, none of this information is personally identifiable, but the thought of our collective steps, movements and other ambient output being turned into something usable by Google is intriguing to say the least…and yes, kind of creepy.
If this particular team can share all of the data it collects in an easy to digest way, then businesses will be clamoring to toss sensors all over their stores and drop the data on whatever cloud platform that will host it the cheapest. Google would like to be that platform.
During the event, the team will hold a workshop on what it calls the “Data Sensing Lab,” so if you’re interested on learning more about what the team is gathering as you walk around, this would be the place to go. You’ll also be able to see some of the real-time visualizations on screens set up throughout the conference floor.
We’ll be covering all of the action as we’re being covered by Google.
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Google recently announced Provo, UT and Austin, TX are on its list of Fiber expansions, and now it’s added another region near Kansas City. The city council of Shawnee, KS has voted to bring in the 1Gbps internet / TV combo, although Google isn’t ready to put a timetable on the rollout yet. We’re sure passed over Kansas City-area residents are happy to see Google Fiber has expanded its footprint a couple of times, but the rest of us are just as envious as ever.
Google felt it appropriate to highlight some of Glass’ specs earlier this week, but there’s much more to the company’s wearable display than just the 5 megapixel camera and its 16GB of internal storage. In case you were hankering for a taste of what else makes Google Glass tick, Android developer (and Glass Explorer) Jay Lee spent some time tinkering with his preview unit and managed to figure out what kind of hardware it has under the hood.
Lee managed to confirm that Glass runs Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich (CEO Larry Page noted during Google’s most recent earnings call that Glass “obviously” runs on Android), and also determined that it has a Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 chipset. In case you haven’t been keeping abreast of developments in the mobile chipset market, the OMAP 4430 was used in devices like the original Motorola Droid RAZR and Samsung’s 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2.0 — solid devices during their prime, but the chipset that powered them is far from new.
Sadly, some of the particulars are still shrouded in mystery — Lee wasn’t able to figure out the processor’s clock speed (the 4430 CPU can be clocked between 1 and 1.2 GHz), and the device only reports that it has 682MB of RAM, but Lee suspects the total is actually 1GB. Still, that’s not too shabby a spec sheet for a device that essentially lives on your face, and some recent reports reveal that the ambitious headset may be surprisingly too simple to root to. Liam McLoughin, an intern for Google’s Chrome team, recently tweeted to note that gaining root access to the search giant’s curious head-mounted display seemed simple in theory, a development that prompted Lee to go digging in the first place.
Meanwhile, Cydia founder and administrator Jay Freeman revealed on Twitter that he too had made progress in gaining access to the device, and even posted a picture to show off how far he’d managed to go. At this point we’ve already seen some companies embrace the Glass platform (Path and the New York Times immediately spring to mind) and others like Evernote are known to be crafting experiences for Glass, but some moderately powerful hardware and seemingly easy rootability could make Glass an even bigger hit for Android tinkerers.
As more developers are receiving their pair of Google Glass, the tinkering with the device is heating up. One developer found a very interesting easter egg within Glass itself, which introduces you to the entire Glass team.
The steps to reproduce it are fairly simple:
Settings -> Device info -> View licenses -> Tap the touchpad 9 times -> Tap Meet Team
Here’s a video demo, including the neat sounds that happen as you keep tapping:
The neat part about the photo is that you can see the entire 360-degree panoramic image by moving your head around. This was hard to show in the MyGlass screencast, since it lags a little bit. We’ve learned that Mike LeBeau, Senior Software Engineer for Google X, is the one who dropped the hidden gem into Glass’ software. He’s appeared on TechCrunch before in a <a target="_blank" href="“>hilarious Google blooper reel.
The team photo has Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, front and center.
I’m sure that more of these easter eggs will pop up over time, but this one is particularly cool since it’s the first time that I’ve seen a panoramic image on the device since I started using it. This functionality could be something that isn’t exposed in the Mirror API as of yet, but once it is, it’ll be a fun one.
“The initial versions of Glass were just Sergey [Brin]‘s Oakleys with a phone taped to them,” Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures, told me in a noisy cafe in Midtown Manhattan. Given his position and our topic of conversation — Google’s Project Glass — he was conspicuous for wearing no eyewear whatsoever. “[Sergey's prototype] was not very compelling.” You’d forgive him for being a bit skeptical back then about what the company’s leadership was hoping would be the next big thing — or, at least, a thing worthy of the time and money required to iterate from those humble beginnings to the sleek device we now know and covet.
So, then, how did we get from those initial doubts to the launching of the Glass Collective, dedicating millions of dollars to finding, funding and fostering innovative applications (not just of the software variety) for Google’s new wearable? Maris spoke of Glass project lead Steve Lee and a later prototype that took photos every few seconds. “Imagine if you had this for your entire life. You could ask: ‘What did I do 10 years ago today?’” That was compelling enough for Maris to commit to the foundation of the Collective, helping Google move the project beyond a single product and into the all-important realm of the platform. This is a platform, he believes, that could change our lives over the next 10 years just as smartphones have over the past decade.
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