Google teases new smartglasses based on a design acquired two years ago

Files from Tom Li

A new pair of augmented reality glasses was one of the tech giant’s biggest highlights unveiled at its annual Google I/O developer conference.

Despite the failed launch of Google Glass ten years ago, the company has not given up on the idea. It bought a Waterloo company that specialized in augmented reality glasses, but pulled the products from the market, leaving observers wondering when and if Google would make another attempt to start eyewear production.

Google’s new, unnamed product is able to translate conversations in real-time, displaying the text in the glasses. Google calls the ability to translate in real-time “subtitles for the world.”

This new eyewear is based on the Focals smart glasses Google had scooped up as a part of its purchase of North, the Waterloo-based technology company, in 2020. Prior to being acquired, North had opened a physical showroom in Toronto and invited customers to try on the glasses. The product instantly gained prominent coverage in the media and even attracted a C$18 million investment from the Canadian government. Unfortunately, that investment was retracted after a round of layoffs within the company in 2019. Despite the layoff and poor sales, the company vowed to release the second generation of the glasses, called Focals 2.0, even releasing a concept image that teased a sleeker frame. It was ultimately unable to fulfil that promise before being acquired by Google.

Focals 2.0 concept. Credit: North

Post-acquisition, Google remained mum about what exactly it planned on doing with the company and its IP. Although it showcased some nifty translation features at I/O 2022, the physical design appeared similar to the teaser released by North two years ago. The major difference is that it now appears to have a camera as it was showcased at the event to be able to translate American Sign Lanugage.

In terms of optics, the Focals smartglasses worked very similarly to the Google Glass, albeit much more stylishly. Read about how it worked in our deep dive.

“What we’re working on is technology that enables us to break down language barriers, taking years of research in Google Translate and bringing that to glasses,” said Eddie Chung, Google’s director of product management.

During the event, Google gave a demonstration of the prototype through a video that showed translations of conversations in various languages such as English, Mandarin, Spanish and even American Sign Language.

The tech giant did not provide a release date. Google’s relaunch of the glasses reflects the company’s cautious approach as regulation looms and scrutiny of Big Tech intensifies.

The tech giant has also introduced a new feature coming in its search engine that allows users to take videos of store shelves and let Google’s search engine respond to queries about and highlight products, for example looking at a shelf of wine bottles and identifying specific wineries or locations, or flagging chocolate bars that fit customer criteria (eg: highly rated dark chocolate). .

The new Google glasses, along with all the other devices and features highlighted during the event, will allow Google to expand its products and services to gain more traction in a consumer market currently dominated by rivals such as Apple and Samsung.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO of a great company - IT World Canada - Canada's leading ICT publisher.

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