Google Glass 2: Allow us to turn it off

Google Glass 2: Allow us to turn it off

Summary: There are a number of features I'd like to see in the consumer release of Google Glass. One in particular is needed to give those not using these advanced lifelogging headsets some peace of mind.


As I mentioned in my post yesterday regarding the potential "evil" implications of "rooted" or "jailbroken" Glass headsets in the wild, there will almost certainly be licensed implementations of the device's basic reference design, which will be improved upon by OEMs.

This would be akin to the reference designs for Android smartphones created by Google, which companies like Samsung, HTC, and LG use to make their own licensed products today.

(Image: Google)

Executives at Google have indicated that Glass will ship to consumers sometime in 2014. Presumably, this is to debug aspects of the system and make improvements so that the market doesn't end up with a half-baked product with a limited application ecosystem at launch, like the first T-Mobile G1 Android handset did back in October 2008.

There are many ways in which an initial Glass consumer product can be improved over the existing "Explorer" edition that is now shipping to developers and first adopters. For starters, there's the issue of battery life.

Great Debate

Will Google Glass face adoption challenges due to privacy concerns?

Will Google Glass face adoption challenges due to privacy concerns?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Google's ground-breaking product.

Currently, according to most reviews of the product published to date, the device only has about a five-hour battery life, and this is reduced to about 20 minutes of total recording time under battery power if the front-facing camera is used for 720p video capture.

Unlike smartphones and tablets, which can use as much as 80 percent of their surface area for battery compartments, Glass faces a number of challenges, essentially because it's a smartphone without a screen, with virtually no surface area to speak of.

The right side of the device holds a small casing that contains the SoC (system on a chip) as well as the 640x360 prism-mounted color display, the forward-facing 5MP CMOS sensor, the microphone, the bone conduction audio system, flash storage, and the support electronics for wireless networking and Bluetooth.

And oh, yes, the battery. All of which has to be packed into an extremely tight area.

So clearly, for Glass to evolve as a usable system, the art of miniaturization has to go a bit beyond what we expect from smartphones. The battery chemistry may need to be more exotic (and thus, probably more expensive) than what exists currently in smartphones, and the SoC design has to be lower power than anything that has been used on a smartphone to date.

Currently, Glass is able to do many tasks autonomously, provided that it has a wi-fi or Bluetooth connection to the internet. Because the SoC used now is of the "complex" and general-purpose variety that is similar to what is used in a smartphone, has a lot of onboard memory (like a smartphone), and runs a fully programmable OS (like a smartphone), it also consumes battery power in large amounts ... like a smartphone.

An alternative approach would be to make the next generation of Glass "dumb", essentially a thin client for the purposes of presenting application telemetry data from a remotely connected smartphone.

With a "dumb" Glass, one could use a very low-power "microcontroller" or ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) of a custom design that is optimized specifically to do the tasks that Glass needs to do, and thus would consume far less battery power.

Glass 2.0 should have a JeOS, possibly even a hardened, non-Linux kernel, with only a minimal amount of memory onboard, so that the tethered smartphone and the cloud it needs to talk to via wi-fi or Bluetooth is in fact doing the heavy lifting in terms of storage and compute.

Should Google choose to continue to use Android as the base OS for Glass, I would make it a design objective to use a secure boot and image validation technology, such has been developed by General Dynamics for its "GD Protected" suite, which includes numerous other security enhancements that should be considered not only for Glass, but for all Android smartphones.

By making Glass "dumb", there would be other advantages besides battery life. As I noted in my previous piece, Glass currently has no security controls that would prevent it from being hijacked and the data on it stolen.

Android and iOS embedded systems expert Jay Freeman, aka "Saurik", who recently published an account of how to root compromise a Glass device, suggested that Google implement a pin code procedure or a voiceprint to unlock the unit when it is not being used.

"Antiglass" would be a signal or trigger that disrupts the lifelogging capabilities of augmented reality devices. It's the Glass kill switch.

But I would go even further with this. Because of the large amounts of onboard storage, there's a lot of data that could be forensically retrieved from the unit, and since Glass currently runs on a sophisticated SoC on Linux rather than a simple microcontroller running on a rudimentary OS, the potential for compromise is significant even if a voiceprint or pin code is used to unlock the system.

In an ideal world, Glass would simply be a Bluetooth headset on steroids. It would only need a small cache to interact with its host smartphone for the card apps to function, and it would make sense to wipe the cache and disconnect from the network tether every time it is removed from the wearer's head.

There's another feature that I think, beyond everything else I've talked about, is paramount in order to get this technology accepted into the mainstream, and that is "Antiglass".

I talked a little about Antiglass in an earlier piece, about how social norms may need to change once Glass becomes popular.

In short, "Antiglass" would be a signal or trigger that disrupts the lifelogging capabilities of augmented reality devices. It's the Glass kill switch.

How this would actually get implemented might be tricky, but I've given some additional thought to this one.

I suspect that this might be possible through the use of RFID ARAT (Active Reader Active Tag) transmitters and tagging, provided that the ARAT tags were hard wired to the camera, and audio pickup electronics in Glass and were not accessible directly via the OS.

There would be many advantages to using this approach. First, it's a fairly "keep it simple, stupid" (KISS) solution, and RFID tagging is a mature and highly proven technology.

And at manufacturing scale, it should be fairly inexpensive for businesses and private individuals to install these Antiglass RFID transmitters in their buildings and homes.

Personal RFID ARAT transmitters could be incorporated into smartphones for those people who want to disrupt Glass and other lifelogging devices for a short distance (10'-100') and could be marketed as a value-added feature of new handsets.

Prosumer units intended for protecting small and medium-sized businesses with higher ranges (100'-200') may only cost a few hundred dollars to bring to market. Medium-range versions (200'-500') could be sold to organizations with larger areas to disrupt, whereas wide-cast, 2,000' versions could be used by federal, state, and local governments to "De-Glass" large public areas.

I feel strongly enough about the potential for Glass to be abused in the future that at bare minimum, an Antiglass initiative should be on the forefront of proposed telecommunications legislation in this country, requiring lifelogging augmented-reality device manufacturers such as Google to use this technology before the genie of personal lifelogging devices is let out of the bottle.

Do we need "Antiglass" technology as part of all lifelogging and augmented reality systems? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Google, Android, Hardware, Security


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • I hope Google could deactivate even the Glass 1 easily without notice.

    Like Amazon erased bought books from Kindle and Google deleted apps from phone. Better yet someone hacking into Glass and show a message saying "You're pawned." Now that would be scary and I don't think it is impossible.
    Ram U
  • @ Jason Perlow

    Your statement:
    As I mentioned in my post yesterday regarding the potential "evil" implications of "rooted" or "jailbroken" Glass headsets in the wild, there will almost certainly be licensed implementations of the device's basic reference design which will be improved upon by OEMs.

    There is no announcement yet of Google allowing Android OEMs to dip into Glass. Not that it cannot occur but if the Android ecosystem is any guide, then Google may not want to do it. But if Motorola is any guide, then Google may in fact want to do it.

    The point is with these questions:
    One - please show the path on how Google plans to mass produce Glass products at scale.
    And two - how does the Glass product relate to the Android ecosystem and Android OS?

    The problem for Google is their inability at creating a distributed, self-sustaining OEM ecosystem. The mess that is Android draws all profits that it can garner (25% or so) into one corner - Samsung.

    And if history is to repeat, then I expect Google to mess up Glass so Samsung will take it over.

    I think Google is ripe for a merger with Samsung or will be so by mid-2014 when other Android OEMs also give up on Android and their own products. I mean HTC is almost out, Motorola is almost out, LG is down. That makes it almost 3 down and 6 to go out of the Android major brand market (Sony, Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo). Leaving Samsung at the top. Rim and Nokia have their issues and they are almost out. Other vendors like Huawei, ZTE, Karbonn and Micromax will still exist and will keep using Android and make some money on it too.
    • Interesting thought

      "I think Google is ripe for a merger with Samsung or will be so by mid-2014 when other Android OEMs also give up on Android and their own products."

      I don't say it is not possible, but that is definitely an interesting one.
      Ram U
      • That is a bet!

        It can happen provided the mobile market slants even more towards Apple + Samsung combination. Let us recheck end of year in Dec 2013.

        Contrary to stock and medai reports, the reports of Apple's (and Microsoft's) demise are greatly exaggerated while the reports of Samsung's and Google's rise are greatly exaggerated too.
    • Samsung is too large, and doesn't need Google

      Why would Samsung even agree to entertaining the thought?

      Yes, Google may need a Samsung by next year, but Samsung won't need a Google, as they seem to be doing just fine on their own.
      William Farrel
      • @ Will Farrel

        Who else will provide Google Maps + Google Mail + Google Youtube + Google Search + whatever else apps that users use from Google if Samsung divorces itself from Google?

        I think Samsung needs Google as much Google needs Samsung.

        That has never occured in the PC OEM ecosystem if you know what I mean.

        Microsoft designed the original Xenix ecosystem (including our very own Intel as an OEM!) way back in 1979 and then with DOS and then with Windows so that it keeps the major profits with itself while minor profits are shared with multiple OEMs (while the CPU maker keeps some major profits too).

        What has happened with the Android ecosystem is that Google and only one hardware OEM keep the major profits. This is either due to the fact the carriers bias the OEM sales towards a preferred vendor which Microsoft prevented when it was/is at the center of the OEM ecosystem or Google pushes the customer reputation (by media + Google paid/subcribed/ranked news articles) towards a preferred OEM and carriers accept that OEM more than all others. A 3rd reason could be that the mobile market is different from the productivity focused PC market. In the mobile market, hardware matters and software is immaterial. May be that is why an electronic IC designer like Samsung has moved all of the profits except for Google Play rent of 20% towards itself.

        The end result is glaringly the market bias towards one OEM. While Apple deserves credit for creating a touch phone and growing an ecosystem around it, Samsung and Google deserve credit for creating a copied touch phone and copied OS and growing an ecosystem only for themselves around it while claiming and proclaiming that the system is open, open-source and free and privacy-aware, all of which are proven wrong.
    • What are you talking about.......

      I have not read anywhere that Motorola or HTC are planning to move away from android. In fact the HTC One series is doing really good for HTC. They just need to rethink their deals with Verizon and AT&T and Sprint and release their One Series of phones on all networks.

      As for Google Glass, I don't know if it will catch on quick. Its already bad that when I hear anything about it I can't help but think about the Scouter that Vegeta uses on DBZ. I would probably go try one so I can say its over 9000. Then put it away.
      • I am talking about this.....

        HTC produced a profit of $2.85 million. That must be accounting gimmickry.

        Since they do not talk about their # publicly unlike American or European companies (like Nokia or Rim or Motorola), it is unknown on their debt profile as well as their cash balance and their cash flow too. Essentially I think they will need a bailout at some point of time (pretty soon). And the reason their sales are declining is not because of lack of distribution. It is because of a botched product pipeline. Their product management sucks. They can learn from Nokia or even Rim on how to manage cash in a down market.
    • You're clueless

      Google owns Motorola. That means:
      A) Moto ain't going nowhere
      2) There is zero chance Google will merge with Samsung
      d)You win the clueless post of the day award.

      Lenovo and HP are "major" Android brands? since when?
      Huawei is actually the third larges smartphone maker in the world, but you're mentioning them as an afterthought.

      You, my friend, have made a completely clueless post. Congrats!!
      • @ tcayton49

        I have voted you up for calling me 'clueless'. Someone else called me a 'loser' yesterday. As my # of Zdnet posts increases, the # of assigned name tags also increases. That is interesting.

        I worked on Motorola's GPRS product in mid-90s but came out after Iridium project failure (again ring a bell) and Motorola started posting losses, guess what, in 1999. When Nortel, Alcatel, Lucent, Cisco, Siemens, NEC, Fujitsu were at their peak including Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and IBM. Motorola was the starting of the American tech downfall (untergang).

        They made a mess with satellite products, made a mess with mobility products, made a mess with cable distribution (atleast that has market share) and the only product set that did not get messed up was their public radio comm division as well as their networks division (the one that made msc, bsc, ran stuff). That first division supplied police, emergency dispatch, defence, government etc etc. People needed the public safety division. So it had consistent revenue and profits. Much as the networks division and the on semiconductor division made consistent revenue and profits.

        Can we say the same of the Motorola Mobility division?

        A ~$1 billion in losses with ~$4 billion in revenue for fiscal 2012. Indeed, I am 'clueless'.

        Lenovo and Hp are not major Android brands yet. Sure.

        Huawei may be the 3rd larget smartphone maker in the world but where are the phone device board or phone IC profits?
        • well said...or not!

          Congrats, you've gone from completely clueless to completely incoherent. Can you put together one single sentence that actually makes sense and doesn't sound like drunken rambling? I'm not trying to be mean, but I have no earthly idea what you are trying to say with that post.
          • Your turn...

            What is incoherent about saying that a company is mismanaged and is loss making?

            Make a note for yourself: I will commit to writing on facts, by facts and with facts.
          • Could not resist adding this comment for you....

            "I have no earthly idea what you are trying to say with that post."

            I know what ails you. The fix for you is to recognize that you are degeneratively 'dumb' and get it resolved as soon as possible.
          • ESL?

            Maybe English isn't your first language...or second.
            In that case, i apologize. You're simply struggling with vocabulary and sentence structure. Its a difficult language if you don't speak it naturally.
            My apologies.
          • ESL ????

            What the hell is your problem?

            A full blooded American here.

            "struggling with vocabulary and sentence structure"
            "Its a difficult language if you don't speak it naturally."

            You forgot where dumb trash like you belongs to. Go back to your hole.

            Ever heard of material conditionals!!

            There is something known as 'if..then..' for your information sake.

            My apologies too for trying to teach you.
      • something else to consider....

        Do you really think the government would allow such a huge merger? Look at the fuss it threw up over the two airlines that just merged. That.... and I don't think the us gov would allow google to potentially be run out of the states were it can no longer issue it warrents.
  • The Possibilities...

    ...boggle the mind.

    GooSung? SamGoo? GooSam? (and my favorite) GooSlung?
    • How about these...

      Samgle, Gomsung, Samooogle, Smoogle (that looks best).
  • If we could just define the problems with Google Glass

    I have not even seen it.

    We are now on the review of the review of the review. We might even be on the review of the second or third generation of a product that is still way off.

    How about a month of no reviews....
  • Yes, not only an antiglass but anti-many-things-technological!

    I'd go as far as using that technology as part of every technologic device that records image or sound. Every recording device should have this built-in hardware by law allowing cinemas, theaters, museums, personal homes, VIP events, public restricted areas, etc. (a really big etc. here!) to ban such recording technology and making them safer in many fields like copyright, actual security, personal details, unwanted publicity, etc. (another big etc.)
    It would be a SMASHER, it would change the world as we know it!

    OFC jailbreakers would be on fire there but still.... think of the possibilities!