The Original Project Glass

by Zoe Pollock

Steve Mann

Steve Mann has created computerized eyewear for over 35 years:

I have found these systems to be enormously empowering. For example, when a car’s headlights shine directly into my eyes at night, I can still make out the driver’s face clearly. That’s because the computerized system combines multiple images taken with different exposures before displaying the results to me. I’ve built dozens of these systems, which improve my vision in multiple ways.

Some versions can even take in other spectral bands. If the equipment includes a camera that is sensitive to long-wavelength infrared, for example, I can detect subtle heat signatures, allowing me to see which seats in a lecture hall had just been vacated, or which cars in a parking lot most recently had their engines switched off. Other versions enhance text, making it easy to read signs that would otherwise be too far away to discern or that are printed in languages I don’t know.

Believe me, after you’ve used such eyewear for a while, you don’t want to give up all it offers.

Update from a reader:

I have fond memories of Steven Mann from my undergraduate days at MIT. You’d see him walking around campus occasionally with like 40 pounds of electronics strapped to his back and a massive camera/screen system on his glasses. At first it was quite jarring to see, because you don’t really see stuff like that every day. But after a while I stopped thinking of him as an oddity … one of the occupational hazards of getting educated at MIT that it no longer becomes weird to see a guy with a pentium lashed to his forehead. Just one of the many interesting visionary characters that I was privileged to spy on during my time at the ‘tute, kinda like the guy who ran my freshman physics lab that turned out to have a Nobel prize.. Anyways, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

(Image: “Self-portraits of Mann with ‘Digital Eye Glass’ (wearable computer and Augmediated Reality systems) from 1980s to 2000s” from Wikimedia Commons)