The smart guns are here May 16, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , add a comment
Guns have been in the news a lot lately, due to the development of 3D printable ones. However, gun news is not confined to additive manufacturing. From NPR comes an item about a “smart gun”, that is, a rifle that does the aiming and firing for the shooter. The Tracking Point rifle has a computerized scope with laser range-finger and heads-up display that corrects the shooter’s aim for environmental conditions, and can also delay pulling the trigger until it computes that the shot will hit its mark. It also allows the shooter to record videos of each shot for review, or posting to YouTube.
The video promotes the rifle’s use as a means of making hunting more efficient. As noted in the article, this efficiency will not suit purists, who point out that the system has the effect of deskilling the practice of hunting. I am reminded of a quote from an episode of The Simpsons, where Lenny, a gun enthusiast and NRA member, discourses on why hunters need assault rifles:
“Assault weapons have gotten a lot of bad press lately, but they’re manufactured for a reason: to take out today’s modern super animals, such as the flying squirrel, and the electric eel.”
Of course, as is often the case when tools become automated, purists will stick to the old ways, while people who otherwise would not engage in hunting may take it up with the new gear that makes it easier to score. They will be encouraged by the familiar, first-person-shooter look of the Heads-Up Display.
Naturally, the new technology poses security issues. The TrackingPoint rifle seems like a godsend to anyone planning an assassination. Aware of the issue, company President Jason Schauble notes that the scope is password protected:
“It has a password protection on the scope. When a user stores it, he can password protect the scope that takes the advanced functionality out. So the gun will still operate as a firearm itself, but you cannot do the tag/track/exact, the long range, the technology-driven precision guided firearm piece without entering that pass code,” he says.
I wonder how many of the devices will have their passwords stuck on them with Post-it notes? In any event, the password scheme seems unimpressive. Given that the scope requires users to look into it, eye-scanning might be more a propos. Even in that case, it is unclear how robust the password system will be, or whether or not having to think of a password will deter people who want the system for malicious purposes.
Besides assassinations, some users may be inclined to appropriate the system for various stunts. Some will imitate William Tell and shoot objects perched on heads. Others may find excitement out of getting the system to do odd things that the designers have probably not considered. Think of Autotune, a system that was originally designed to correct variations of pitch in singing, but was quickly used to produce odd and inventive, new sound effects instead. TrackingPoint hackers will likely find ways to get the system to produce interesting patterns of shots, playing “X”s and “O”s or spelling names with bullet holes, perhaps.
It will be interesting to see how this gun factors into the ongoing gun control debate in the US. Is access to smart guns an inalienable right? Or, should they be regulated in some way? Perhaps the best move would be not to ban smart guns but to produce a weapon smart enough not the pull the trigger at all.
Calling all inventors May 15, 2013Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV404 , add a comment
A few weeks ago, a Canadian Press article surfaced explaining that the Canadian federal government wanted to “tap the skills of obscure basement inventors and turn their tinkering into innovative consumer products.” After all,
History is full of consumer innovations that went from obscurity to millions of dollars of sales in short order.
Among them, the dishwasher, invented in 1886 by a wealthy matron in Illinois who wanted to avoid the chipped dishware that was the inevitable result when her servants did the washing. Josephine Cochrane made extra dishwashers for friends, and eventually created a company that became part of Whirlpool Corp.
The article also mentions the skateboard as another “home-grown” product, but fails to note a single Canadian basement invention. Perhaps Industry Canada needs to put the historical horse before the cart to inspire people with a few, you know, Canadian examples. Or maybe we just need something more galvanizing from the government than “framework laws, expenditure programs and regulatory-standards systems” to encourage people. Like a war!
When I read the article I couldn’t help but think of a couple of conference talks about the foibles of such encouragement that I attended a few years ago at the 2011 Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association (CSTHA) biennial meeting. The first, by Galen Perras, explored the lengths that one Hamiltonian travel agent and veteran went to during the Second World War to convince the Canadian military that infantry should use lacrosse sticks to lob grenades at their foes. Using personal connections and demonstrations before the media, he was able to promote his idea quite a ways up the curious as well as skeptical chain of command before it was ruled impractical. I’ll admit, all my 21st century mind can visualize is a shaky YouTube video of a bunch of teenagers with lacrosse sticks lobbing pop-bottle bombs or firecrackers across a high-school football field then taking the idea to Dragon’s Den.
The second talk, by Dorotea Gucciardo, covered this same territory more broadly of basement or backyard inventors doing their duty during the Second World War, submitting their best and brightest ideas to Ottawa. Eventually, an office known as the War Inventions Board was created to manage the influx of inspiration. Given the examples that Gucciardo mentioned — “from freezing clouds and mounting guns on them to hanging machine gunners on trapeze” — let no one claim Canadians are uncreative. But as she and Perras confirmed, most submissions were rejected and dismissed by the government and the military. Which isn’t to say that some crazy ideas weren’t tested quite thoroughly: who remembers the contemporary Project Habakkuk, the presumably unsinkable pykrete (ice and sawdust) aircraft carrier planned for the North Atlantic to take on U-Boats?
In short, what struck me the most about the CP story, combined with my recollections of those two CSHTA talks, was that this sort of backyard invention, like virtually every kind of technological change, is bound to be unpredictable, of varied (and dubious) quality, and hard to channel. In any case, I do encourage Industry Canada to post the results (successful or not) on YouTube. To benefit, you know, future historians.
What’s in a name? May 13, 2013Posted by wendy in : Uncategorized , 1 comment so far
The title didn’t make immediate sense to me: Tailings of Warren Peace. I thought it was some sort of play on Tolstoy’s War and Peace or maybe something to make you think of “tales of war and peace.”
Tailings are, according to Wikipedia, “the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction of an ore.” In this case, gold. Warren Peace is a man from a coal-mining community in Nova Scotia, trying to escape his past by doing what all Canadians do under these circumstances: moving to Toronto.
What Warren does when he gets there is perhaps not so common. He, with his partner Curtis, repossesses gravestones—usually in the dead (sorry) of night, to avoid undue attention. In the daytime he reads on lampposts the serialized story of a young Guatemalan girl killed by the actions of a Canadian gold-mining company. By the time he knows the ending of the story, he is involved with a group of activists who want justice for the girl Lalita and others whose lives were destroyed when a company from a developed country—in this case, Canada—invaded their world and turned a land of mountains and spirits into a flattened Blakean hell.
The publisher of this newly released Canadian novel claims that it is “a powerful story of love and memory, exploring how the past haunts us and how solidarity can save us all. Mysterious, passionate and powerful, Tailings of Warren Peace shows us the interconnections that exist between us, transcending social class, culture and geography.”
Author Stephen Law calls it a social justice thriller. According to the blurb on the publisher’s website, Law is a writer, ecological farmer, and social activist. Experienced in conflict mediation and facilitation, he has been involved in campaigns to expose the effects of mining on communities in Canada and Latin America. For a year he served as an international accompanier supporting human rights activists in Colombia.
More than a murder mystery or a global tale of good guys fighting bad guys, the developing world destroying, yet again, a small part of what remains unsullied, this book is, to me, a story about the relationship between humans and their technologies. In Nova Scotia and Guatemala we see what happens when a technology dominates, even determines the community. The ways in which people socialize and interact are radically altered.
Mines are significant characters in the novel. As a boy Warren had watched his grandfather, a coal miner, slowly die of lung disease.
Warren flashed onto the bedroom, the smell of the bedroom. His grandfather lying on the bed, propped up under the family’s quilts, the ones made by the women who stayed above ground, keeping their hands moving while they waited for the bump to tell them about seismic shifts that covered and buried those who would lay under them. He coughed and coughed, night or day, he’d cough. You couldn’t drown out the sound, even when Warren stuffed pillows on his head, he couldn’t drown out the sound. It was raspy. He could hear his grandfather try to clear his throat, as if somehow that would be enough, and the phlegm would be dispelled and allow him to breathe air free of particles that came up from his lungs.
The air was poison to his grandfather. When Warren’s mom told him what was wrong, that his body had inhaled too much dust, Warren had taken to wearing a mask around the house and when he went to play outside.
We see not only how the community revolves around the life and death struggles of the mine, alert to its every movement, but how the mine affects the imaginings and sense of security of the children.
Celina, the author of her sister Lalita’s story, is haunted by the deaths of 15 Guatemalans who are killed when a tailings pond breaks its banks and the cyanide from it pollutes a nearby river in which children are swimming. Cyanide, used to extract gold from the rocks taken from the foreign-owned mine. We see how the lives of the residents are changed—many destroyed—by the presence of the mine.
The people who work for the mining company are also affected by the mine. In their compulsion to supply its needs, they commit heinous crimes and willingly offer human sacrifices to it. Mine as demigod.
The author asks us to carefully, thoughtfully, consider the work of our hands and minds. What responsibility do the owners of the mines—in Canada and Guatemala— have to the communities and to the people who work the mines? What value system should determine the method of extraction and the extent of the destruction of the natural landscape? How can efficiency, profitability, and sustainability be balanced?
Google strikes back May 13, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , add a comment
I have posted before about some of the dissing that Google Glass has received so far, even before its introduction. For example, it has been compared to the Segway, a personal mobility vehicle that never took off as its inventors intended.
(Loic Le Meur/Wikimedia commons)
But Google has been fighting back, countering the criticism with some positive PR. For example, Google has publicized some warm feelings from beta testers:
Mary Lambert got cooking instructions using Glass. “The friend who I was doing it with could see what I was doing and was like ‘No no no, that’s all wrong,’ which was really helpful and I didn’t expect it,” she says.
So, interacting with Glass is better than interacting with friends? Well, friends are not always well-informed or compliant, unlike Glass.
Critics, I suppose, would argue that early adopters like everything new–like the Segway–whether it is really a good idea or not.
Another time-honoured way to take some heat off Glass is to identify a marginalized social group with whom everyone is sympathetic and who might surely benefit from the new technology. In this case, Google points out that war veterans could use Glass to have a better experience at war memorials:
[Sarah] Hill is convinced that leading a virtual tour for veterans while wearing Google Glass would be completely different for them than showing the group just a DVD. She says it gives them the ability to ask questions and request certain sights and sounds, like the waves on the beaches of Normandy or the waterfalls at the World War II memorial.
This use of Glass is similar to another new technology, also discussed by NPR, namely Sony’s new Entertainment Action Glasses. The purpose of these specs is to help deaf people enjoy movies in theaters:
Sony Entertainment Access Glasses are sort of like 3-D glasses, but for captioning. The captions are projected onto the glasses and appear to float about 10 feet in front of the user. They also come with audio tracks that describe the action on the screen for blind people, or they can boost the audio levels of the movie for those who are hard of hearing.
This technology might well be really enjoyable for deaf movie fans and could help to boost attendance in theaters somewhat. Of course, Sony’s Glasses won’t be recording any movies, perhaps unlike sets of Google Glass in front of the big screen.
This comparison suggests that veterans might be better served by simpler and more specialized gear like the Action Glasses, which would also likely be a lot cheaper than Glass.
I do not know whether Google Glass will succeed in the marketplace or not. However, its road to success would be smoother if Google could somehow assure institutions like restaurants and movie theaters that its gear won’t imperil their business enough to make them want to ban it.
(Stop the cyborgs/Wikimedia commons)
Nanoparticles and your health May 10, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
It has been a while since I have seen much news on nanoparticles and their possible effects on health. However, nanotechnology research continues, and new applications have been investigated. For example, New Scientist reports on some recent work applying nanosilver particles to filter water:
Thalappil Pradeep at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai and colleagues have developed a filter based on an aluminium composite, embedded with silver nanoparticles. As water flows through the filter, the nanoparticles are oxidised and release ions, which kill viruses and bacteria, and neutralise toxic chemicals such as lead and arsenic.
This sounds great, but what about the nanosilver particles that are released into the water? The articles notes that their concentration is so low as to pose no threat to human health. Certainly, it might be preferable to high concentrations of lead and arsensic.
FastCompany features a short article on some recent research in nanotoxicology, on the potential of nanoparticles such as carbon nanotubes, to cause health problems in people. A recent study raises some grounds for concern:
A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that titanium dioxide nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes–two nanomaterials often found in lightweight sports equipment and paints–can cause lung inflammation in mice and rats.
The report notes that, because of their diminutive size, nanoparticles can pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream, with uncertain consequences.
As ever, we face a dilemma of progress with the advent of new technologies. Do we go the precautionary route and wait until the new materials are declared safe? Or, do we proceed and introduce them into technological designs, not wanting to miss out on their promises of a better world, e.g., cleaner water?
Canada gets robot money May 9, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
Word comes today from New Scientist that Canada is going to put robots on its upcoming revision of the five-dollar bill. More specifically, the Canadarm2 and Dextre robot arms will be featured on the note, along with an anonymous astronaut. Behold:
(Bank of Canada/Flickr.com)
This news will please many techies out there, and not just in Canada, e.g., at Engagdet:
Let that sink in for a moment: a country’s currency will reference space robots alongside the usual politicians. The only thing dampening the awesomeness is the irony of it all, as it’s an ode to technology in a format that’s being destroyed by technology. Still, we’ll consider the $5 note a victory for geeks everywhere when we’re buying a box of Timbits.
The design looks pretty neat, and definitely is better than some of the other space-tech possiblities:
Or, there is the more down-to-earth option, that being Justin Bieber:
I suppose that the Mint’s idea to go with the robot is understandable. My one quibble with the design is that it looks somewhat like Laurier’s head is on a spike, that being the pinnacle of the Peace Tower, from which I infer that the designer is not a Liberal.
Technology vs Science vs the NRC May 8, 2013Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV100, STV404 , comments closed
One question that comes up in STV 100 is if technology is applied science. Many undergraduates are quite happy with this understanding and see no need to question it. After all, most STV students are engineers, which means they are working towards a Bachelor of Applied Science, so it’s a no-brainer. The role of science is the creator of new knowledge which engineers can then apply.
It’s not that simple, I usually tell them. Where does it leave the technological tinkerers working in the scientific darkness, using rule of thumb and experience to guide them to a novel solution that “works”, without any understanding or need for scientific principles or methods? Or “big” science of today–think of the Large Hadron Collider or space telescopes, looking at small things and big things–that is only possible through the mediation of technology: without the very expensive instruments, there is no science. The role of science and technology toward the other can be “fuzzy”, to use a technical term. Most commentators these days accept that both can push the other forward.
But today I also want to talk about the social and cultural rank of technology and science. In other words, let what do people think of the relationship or role between them. Which is subordinate and which is more important, socially and culturally? Generally, science and scientists and scientific activity has ranked higher than the technical and useful arts from the Ancients well into to the 20th century, at least in the western tradition. This may help explain the persistence of the idea of “technology is applied science”, even when presented with counter-evidence. People have believed science to be a higher activity for so long that it’s hard to give up.
Against these observations I note yesterday’s announcement that the National Research Council, Canada’s foremost scientific research body, is changing. As explained by council president John McDougall:
“We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development,” McDougall
“Impact is the essence of innovation. A new idea or discovery may in fact be interesting, but it doesn’t qualify as innovation until it’s been developed into something that has commercial or societal value.
How can this be anything other than a reversal of ranking? That technology will now be lifted above science, and science must now demonstrate impact or application to be valuable? I suspect this will remain a controversial decision for many years. Many different people jumped up yesterday to point out that pure science can lead unexpectedly to economic value. That misses the point I think, because everybody knows that happens, even if they’d like it to be more predictable or frequent. The real point was that pure science used to be appreciated (and get funded) simply for its own ends, which nobody mentioned. Now, that type of research is entirely up to universities.
Curiously, I looked around at the high-profile scientific research here at UW. Consider the new Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum Nano Centre housing the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, or the 14-year-old Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Of late, the local paper has been profiling the new building, its occupants and the general goals of these institutes. The articles rarely distinguish between technology or science, and each insists that quantum physics is a valuable investment because of the positive social, economic or environmental impacts, not the basic scientific insights.
Quantum physics can offer solutions to everything from environmental to economic problems, Turok [director of the Perimeter Institute] said. Because quantum devices and quantum computers could do
infinitely more calculations than classical processors, the field should be a “great source of optimism and hope.” (source)
Raymond Laflamme, director of the Institute for Quantum Computing, says this “totally wacko” technology has the potential to create economic activity that would dramatically reshape our region. (source)
Not so long ago, the theories these experiments are built upon were only taken seriously by unconventional physicists dismissed as “hippies.” But a few key breakthroughs in the 1980s and 1990s finally unlocked the keys to the technologies contained within. (source)
Even the university website for the new building emphasizes social impact over pure discovery:
Research at the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre will lead to transformative technologies, such as ultra-powerful quantum computers, innovative quantum devices and nanotechnologies with applications that will benefit society in countless ways.
In short, the technological innovations hidden in the science matter more than the insights themselves (which are strange, non-intuitive and otherwise difficult to understand anyways). I’m not saying that Turok, Laflamme or any of the scientists working around here believe this, or that these even represent useful samples of the science that happens beyond my office door. And perhaps this is not the best university in Canada for the pure vs applied litmus test: UW was founded on the idea of applied knowledge (think co-op).
Nonetheless, I really don’t doubt the trend, nor that this is a sudden or politically motivated reversal in the fortunes of science and technology. It has probably been underway for decades and will probably reflect the views of society better, regardless of the political sideshow of whether or not a particular government is pursuing an “anti-intellectual” or “anti-science” mission or not. Indeed, according to Paul Forman, we entered this new era in the early 1980s and many thinkers, philosophers, historians and commentators are still catching up. As a result, many people who ought to know better get science and technology mixed up, and fail to distinguish between them in an effort to capture the “impact” of new research:
“Those most influential in science not only emphasize the importance of new technology for scientific advance–and minimize the importance of new concepts–but also deny the existence of any clear boundary or distinction between science and technology.” (Forman, 2007)
Which is exactly what we see in the newspapers as well. I suppose as a historical exercise, it would be interesting to track the social and cultural interaction with universities and their research institutes across Canada to confirm Forman’s thesis regarding the rank of science vs technology. Perhaps UW has merely been been ahead of the game. Any grad students out there looking for a project?
first all-3D printed gun fired May 8, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
Huffington Post reports that Defense Distributed has designed and test-fired a pistol made on a 3D printer. The only parts not printed out were the firing pin, for which a common nail is used, and strip of metal to comply with US laws requiring guns to be detectable by metal detectors. (This last part can be left out if desired.)
The pistol is called “the Liberator“, in honor of the group’s goal “to defend the civil liberty of popular access to arms” by making printable gun designs available to anyone with an internet connection.
There appears to be nothing illegal in DD’s efforts. It is legal, in the United States, for people to make guns for their own use. A license is required to sell them. Whether or not it is advisable to design printable guns is less clear, although Wilson is not deterred:
“This tool might be used to harm people,” Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson told Forbes magazine. “I don’t think that’s a reason to not put it out there. I think that liberty in the end is a better interest.”
There is some push-back from law-makers on the matter. California State Senator Leland Yee is drafting legislation that would ban the printing of weapons of this sort. Nationally, Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Steve Israel are drafting similar legislation.
Such laws would, I imagine, be challenged in court as violations of Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms. How such laws and challenges would fare, I do not know.
From a broader perspective, the right to carry weapons is often seen as implicit in the right to self-defence, a basic right. However, the need for universal arming would seem to make the most sense in a state of universal threat to individual safety, a Hobbesian “war of all against all.” In fact, though, gun violence has been declining in the US, in spite of the common impression to the contrary. So, it seems that Americans are actually winning that “war”. Will DIY weapons help or hurt that cause? Or, is that issue irrelevant, as Wilson seems to believe?
More dissing for Google Glass May 7, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
Google Glass is months from its commercial introduction, but it is already getting a rough ride. I noted in a recent posting that some commentators have found Glass to be too “dorky”. The basic complaint is that wearing Glass will make you seem rude and out-of-it to the people around you. Fear of this condition (“Glass eye”?), that is, not wanting to appear dorky in public, will inhibit uptake of Google Glass by consumers.
As noted by the New York Times, resistance to Google Glass is already gathering steam:
The glasses-like device, which allows users to access the Internet, take photos and film short snippets, has been pre-emptively banned by a Seattle bar. Large parts of Las Vegas will not welcome wearers. West Virginia legislators tried to make it illegal to use the gadget, known as Google Glass, while driving.
“This is just the beginning,” said Timothy Toohey, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in privacy issues. “Google Glass is going to cause quite a brawl.”
Glass is poised to turn all its wearers into paparazzi, recording one another on the sly. Google responds that they have considered the possible dork factor: Google Glass must be turned on via voice or manual command, and the subject must be directly in the line of sight of the wearer before recording can start. Thus, people will know when they are being recorded. Maybe. The article notes that some developers have already hacked Glass, allowing the user to begin recording with merely a wink.
Then there is the issue of distraction. The state of Virginia has already considered legislation that would ban drivers from using Google Glass behind the wheel, which would otherwise be permitted as a hands-free device under current law. No doubt, other jurisdictions will be considering similar measures in the near future.
Google Glass will not be permitted in some private venues. The “5 point bar” in Seattle, for example, has already banned customers from using the gear there on the grounds that patrons want a private experience there. Also, Glass will not be permitted in casinos in Las Vegas, which prohibit people from using any recording device.
In a CNN article, former secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, compares Google Glass to drone technology:
Now imagine that millions of Americans walk around each day wearing the equivalent of a drone on their head: a device capable of capturing video and audio recordings of everything that happens around them. And imagine that these devices upload the data to large-scale commercial enterprises that are able to collect the recordings from each and every American and integrate them together to form a minute-by-minute tracking of the activities of millions.
I guess that Chertoff has the unarmed variety of drone in mind, although more than a few Americans do carry heat. Certainly, there is potential for abuse here, but Google’s use of the data could presumably be regulated, as their use of Street View data is. Perhaps Google’s computers could track only those who have explicitly agreed to it.
Google views concerns like this one as over-reactions. By and large, they feel, people will continue to treat each other much as before:
Thad Starner, a pioneer of wearable computing who is a technical adviser to the Glass team, says he thinks concerns about disruption are overblown.
“Asocial people will be able to find a way to do asocial things with this technology, but on average people like to maintain the social contract,” Mr. Starner said. He added that he and colleagues had experimented with Glass-type devices for years, “and I can’t think of a single instance where something bad has happened.”
How hard were they looking?
And what is Google’s view of the social contract? My idea is that I do not expect to be tracked under normal circumstances, even when in public. I do not expect to be tailed by police, for example, unless they have “probable cause” to suspect that I am up to something nefarious. Is that Google’s view?
Google does seem to have something different in mind:
Like many Silicon Valley companies, Google takes the attitude that people should have nothing to hide from intrusive technology.
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” said Eric Schmidt, then Google’s chief executive, in 2009.
In other words, Google takes the view that, by appearing in public, people have implicitly agreed to be tracked; otherwise, they should not have made themselves visible. Is that really the social contract?
More likely, gear like Google Glass will require people to re-negotiate the social contract. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
In the meantime, Google Glass got some more love over the weekend, this time from Saturday Night Live:
Perhaps users of Glass will be the ones to worry about their public appearances.
Is Google Glass too dorky? May 3, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
We recently heard from Sergey Brin that smart phones are emasculating. His solution? Google Glass, the spectacles that are your new, Googly eyes on the world.
Now, just as Google Glass is poised to take over the smart phone market, Marcus Wohlsen at Wired argues that Google Glass is too dorky to become a commercial success. By this, he appears to mean that Google Glass makes its wearers, at least the white male ones, appear too obviously cut off from their physical and social environment. Unlike nerdiness, which implies a social awkwardness that is not without its charms, dorkiness is offensively bad, he observes. As potential Google Glass wearers recognize this problem, they will stay away in droves, thus dooming the design.
To make his case, he provides an analogy with the Segway, a sort of two-wheeled, self-balancing golf cart that was set to revolutionize personal mobility but never did. The failure of the Segway was, Wohlsen explains, due to how dorky it made its riders:
But that transformation hasn’t happened. And it won’t. Why? Because Segways are lame. They’re too rational. They fail to acknowledge all the irrational reasons people love their cars.
There may be something to this argument. As Paul Graham explains, people on Segways may seem obnoxious and detached to other people on the streets:
When you’re riding a Segway you’re just standing there. And someone who’s being whisked along while seeming to do no work—someone in a sedan chair, for example—can’t help but look smug.
This observation may explain why people enjoy watching “Segway fails” videos, like this one:
However, as Gary Rivlin explained in an earlier Wired article, the Segway had other, substantial issues. For one thing, at a price point of $3,000 to $7,000, it was never going to outsell the bicycle. For another thing, the Segway is fairly heavy, about 80 lbs, and travels fairly fast. This means that a collision with a Segway rider on a busy sidewalk is no fun. As a result, the Segway was classified as a motor vehicle in many places, forcing it off the sidewalks, full of vulnerable pedestrians, and onto the roads, full of impervious cars. The Segway lives on, but in a niche market with police patrollers and tourist “walkabouts”.
So, will Google Glass be the Segway of 2013? I do not know, but the main issue may be not how smug wearers appear to others but how good they are at avoiding collisions with them as the walk and surf the ‘net.