Google About to Test Augmented Reality (AR) Headsets in the Real World

Google is rededicating itself to the augmented reality (AR) arena, which means technologists who want to build AR apps and services may soon have a whole new ecosystem to explore.

In a corporate blog posting, Google suggested it plans to begin testing AR prototypes in the “real world” (whatever that means) in August. “We’ll begin small-scale testing in public settings with AR prototypes worn by a few dozen Googlers and select trusted testers,” the posting added. “These prototypes will include in-lens displays, microphones and cameras—but they’ll have strict limitations on what they can do. For example, our AR prototypes don’t support photography and videography, though image data will be used to enable experiences like translating the menu in front of you or showing you directions to a nearby coffee shop.”

The posting added: “It’s early, and we want to get this right, so we’re taking it slow, with a strong focus on ensuring the privacy of the testers and those around them.”

Google is likely taking this new AR experiment slow because the last time it tried to enter the arena quickly, with its Google Glass headset, things imploded in spectacular fashion. Users disliked the device’s aesthetics, and the hardware’s sticker price made it prohibitively expensive for many; in addition, Google didn’t effectively address the privacy and security concerns that inevitably come with someone walking around with a web-connected camera strapped to their face.

But undeterred by that misfire, Google has been hiring technologists for this new AR project. It’s looking for job candidates skilled in the Linux kernel and driver model as well as real-time operating system (RTOS) development. Overall details are still sketchy, including what the final hardware may actually look like.

If Google manages to roll out an AR headset that succeeds with audiences, it could open up a whole new ecosystem of apps and services—which could translate into significant opportunities and profits for technologists. It will also face likely competition from Apple, which will supposedly roll out an AR headset next year, and Meta/Facebook, which is betting its entire existence on the “metaverse,” the company’s term for an ecosystem of AR and virtual reality (VR) apps.