Google Executives Hint That AR Glasses Are Poised for a Comeback

Google Glass, the augmented-reality headset that flopped with consumers a decade ago, is poised for a revival, thanks to artificial intelligence. 

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has struggled for years to get AR spectacles to work. After the initial headset was phased out in 2015, the company sold enterprise versions for businesses, but those too were discontinued last year.

The executives are signaling that new AI features could set the stage for AR glasses to return. At the company’s annual developer conference in Mountain View, California, one of Google’s buzziest announcements was Project Astra, an AI agent that can use a smartphone camera to “see” the world around it and answer questions about the scenery. 

A video demonstration during the morning keynote included a pair of glasses that appeared to have a camera and some kind of visual interface. During interviews with Google DeepMind Chief Executive Officer Demis Hassabis and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, the executives confirmed that the company is experimenting with the idea of making glasses for Project Astra.

“Obviously, it works amazingly on the phones,” said Hassabis, who oversees AI research at Google. “But the whole valley’s debating this, there probably needs to be other form factors as well, when these systems are fully developed. It seems to me like Glass is an obvious one.”

Brin called Project Astra a “killer app” for an AI-powered glasses effort, adding that Google was 10 years too early for the game. “It’s funny because it’s, like, the perfect hardware,” he said, while stopping short of confirming that Google was actively working on glasses.

“Hands-free is the idea,” Brin said. “A lot of things you want commentary on: You’re cooking or doing some sport, or you want this thing to help you. It’s awkward to do it with your hands also holding your phone.”

He pointed to other artificial intelligence companies’ efforts in making AI clips and similar devices as part of attempts to find a less obtrusive way to interact with generative AI.

And even 10 years later, Brin thinks the form factor of Google Glass was “pretty cool.” 

“Unfortunately, we sort of messed up on the timing,” he said. “I sort of wish I timed it a bit better.”

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