Laying the foundation for Google Glass: Japanese projects that pushed the space forward


There’s much anticipation over the very futuristic Google Glass, which promises to deliver smartphone-like capabilities in a pair of wearable glasses. But the idea of providing useful, supplemental information through a pair of glasses is actually nothing new, especially in Japan where a number of manufacturers have already created such solutions, and there are more on the way. Today I thought I’d take a quick look at some projects and ideas which I think were important in the development of smart glasses technology.

Brother’s AirScouter

Japanese printer manufacturer Brother has been developing its AirScouter which came to light almost 5 years ago, announcing its commercialization in 2011. While it’s certainly a little bulky, the AirScouter is practical if nothing else, providing useful information in situations like assembly line work to explain complex tasks. Check out the video below for a more complete explanation.

Docomo’s AR Walker

Another such solution is Docomo’s AR Walker, a augmented reality prototype that the company exhibited way back in 2010, creating what I believe is the first head-mounted display that didn’t look awful. The project, at that time, required a wired connection to a smartphone using wires, but after that it could deliver handy information about the world around you via a QVGA display positioned just in front of the right lens.

This was a somewhat crude execution of augmented reality glasses, but an important one, I think. I had a chance to try this one first hand a few years back, and it worked very well, displaying information about the areas where your head was pointing, even showing you the weather when you look upwards. You can learn more in the video from Diginfo News below:

Dennou Coil (TV series)

Perhaps one of the lesser publicized influences on the development of Google Glass-like technology is the 2007 television series Dennou Coil, where characters use of augmented reality glasses to explore a virtual world that is superimposed on top of their city, visible only when they wear their glasses. The series was written and directed by Mitsuo Iso who also worked on the well known Ghost in the Shell film.

It’s hard to say how much this series affected or inspired the development of augmented reality a in Japan, but I would not be surprised if many individuals or even companies followed concepts seen here.

dennou coil
Image via SF Tropes

In the consumer space, Google Glass might be the leading product over the next few years, but we can expect more intriguing attempts to create such smart glasses from Japanese companies pushing the technology further as well. Both Fujitsu and Brilliant Service reportedly showed off some cool technology at the recent Mobile World Congress, promising to make significant improvements in the coming years.

With contributions from Junya Mori