Google sets sights on smart glasses again in start-up deal

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By Margi Murphy in San Fran­cisco

GOOGLE has bought a “pi­o­neer­ing” smart glasses com­pany, five years after its own con­sumer de­vice was canned after fail­ing to lure shop­pers.

Rick Oster­loh, Google’s hard­ware chief, de­scribed Cana­dian start-up North as “a pioneer in hu­man com­puter in­ter­faces and smart glasses” as the com­pany an­nounced the ac­qui­si­tion.

North’s Fo­cals de­vice, launched in 2019, al­lows the wearer to send and re­ceive mes­sages, see turn-by-turn di­rec­tions, call an Uber, or talk to Alexa. Own­ers con­trol what is pro­jected into their line of sight us­ing but­tons on the frames and can dic­tate mes­sages through the mi­cro­phone.

A sec­ond ver­sion, set to come with a cam­era, had been due to launch soon. North said it would be re­fund­ing any or­ders as it moves un­der Google’s wing.

The an­nounce­ment re­veals a re­newed Google com­mit­ment to smart glasses, de­spite its ini­tial project, Google Glass, fail­ing to gain trac­tion back in 2013.

The project was one of the search engine’s first known for­ays into hard­ware, en­cour­aged by founder Sergey Brin.

Dis­cussing the Google Glass in a 2013 Ted talk, Mr Brin said he had spent two years de­vel­op­ing a de­vice that could “free your hands and free your eyes”, be­cause he felt it was un­nat­u­ral for peo­ple to hunch over their smart­phones while “so­cially iso­lat­ing them­selves”.

Shop­pers did not warm to the $1,500 (£1,200) price tag, clunky look and ex­pressed pri­vacy con­cerns about its head-mounted cam­era and the launch was widely re­garded as a flop.

How­ever, two years after Google Glass was dis­con­tin­ued, Google’s sis­ter com­pany X re­vealed it had con­tin­ued to work on the head­sets, but for in­dus­trial use.

It is un­clear whether North’s tech­nol­ogy will be adapted for fac­tory work­ers.

That the an­nounce­ment was made by Mr Oster­loh, who runs Google’s Nest prod­ucts, which in­clude its smart speak­ers and Pixel phones, may sug­gest that it will be­come part of Google’s con­sumer line.

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