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Vision, opportunity expanding for Google Glass

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Steve Lee understands the hesitation some folks have about Google Glass.

When he saw an early version of the concept, a pair of augmented-reality glasses that users could wear to enhance their everyday lives, he thought it was crazy.

The specs were bulky. Uncomfortable. Not stylish.

That did not stop him from jumping to the project three years ago. The Slater, Iowa, native, who worked on the tech giant's first mobile applications including Maps, now directs the Glass project.

“It seemed a bit crazy at the time,” said Lee, 40. “But I saw a vision that this could be compelling. I could see how it could become a whole new way for people to interact if we could achieve some technical feats.”

Those technical feats have started to appear, and Lee, director of product management for Glass, envisions a day when consumers buy the specs from store shelves. He says the device someday will revolutionize industries, including health care and education.

Some teachers and developers who paid the $1,500 price tag are showing off what might be possible. Others, such as the leaders of Iowa State University's virtual reality program, say they cannot wait to see what is possible when students build products for the wearable computer. Glass is similar to a smartphone in that developers can build applications for it.

Privacy and security concerns must be addressed for the product to gain approval of government bodies. For now, users turn on Glass by using a simple head motion or tapping on the device. They can record or snap a picture, among other things, using a voice command.

Because of this, some government officials are closely watching Glass, aiming to determine security and privacy violations that nonusers may face.

In May, eight members of the House's bipartisan Privacy Caucus sent Google co-founder Larry Page a letter spelling out concerns, including the potential of facial recognition technology to expose nonusers' personal information; Google's ability to collect user information; and how privacy comes into play with third-party application developers.

Lee said the device's design negates the concern that users will take pictures or video of nonusers without consent.

“When recording with Glass, the display is always active,” Lee said. “Observers can see the light is on. You have to stare at people to record them.”

The Google Glass Explorer program sold the device to about 2,000 developers who attended Google's annual I/O developers conference. After that, the device was offered to about 8,000 Twitter users whose selection was based on a contest.

The program has created a diverse base to test the device in many real-world settings. Though some people may be uncomfortable wearing computers, the experience is not nearly as off-putting for those who grew up around technology.

Allistair Lee in Ames, Iowa, said he barely notices his device.

“People are going to be skeptical,” said Lee, 26, an Iowa State student. “With new technology, people are always trying to adapt.”

Lee, who is pursuing a master's degree in crop production and physiology, said Google Glass's possibilities are endless.

“Technology is evolving,” Allistair Lee said. “We are probably just scratching the surface. There are a lot of different things you can do.”

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