BBC News

Google Glass eyewear on sale in UK

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

image copyrightGoogle
image captionGlass is available to buy online or from a Google-run location in London

Google has released Glass in the UK, making it the second country to get the Android-powered eyewear after the US.

The kit - which is still a prototype - costs £1,000 and is being targeted at developers, rather than consumers, who must be over 18 years old.

The BBC has learned that the US firm held talks with the Department for Transport ahead of the launch.

The DfT had previously raised concerns that the wearable tech could prove a distraction to drivers.

That is still the case, but a government spokesman revealed that the search firm was investigating ways to allow drivers to legally use Glass while on UK roads- possibly by restricting the information it displays mid-journey.

image copyrightGoogle
image captionGoogle suggests Glass could be used to find takeaway restaurants

"Drivers must give their full attention to the road, which is why it has been illegal since the 1980s to view a screen whilst driving, unless that screen is displaying driving information," said the spokesman.

"There are no plans to change this and we have met with Google to discuss the implications of the current law for Google Glass.

"Google is anxious its products do not pose a road safety risk and is currently considering options to allow the technology to be used in accordance with the law."

A spokeswoman for Google confirmed the talks, adding that it urged buyers to use Glass safely.

A video released by the firm to mark the London launch does, however, show the kit being used by a cyclist to get directions and check his pace.

image copyrightGoogle
image captionA promotional video shows a cyclist using Google Glass

Other organisations, surveyed by the BBC, have raised separate concerns relating to Glass's ability to film video and take photographs:

  • The Vue cinema chain said it would ask guests to remove the eyewear "as soon as the lights dim before a screening"
  • Fitness First and Virgin Active both told the BBC that members could wear the kit in their gyms, but would be forbidden from using it to capture images
  • Coffee chain Starbucks said it would "politely ask" customers not to film its staff, while Costa said those who used Glass "inappropriately" would be asked to leave, adding that its staff were barred from wearing the machine during working hours

Upgraded hardware

Google first announced Glass in April 2012.

It was initially limited to US-based developers, but was put on general release in the country in May, at a cost of $1,500 (£881).

image copyrightFernando Gallego
image captionOne developer has made an app that tells you the name of a song if you say: "OK glass, name this song"

The kit features a transparent display that creates the illusion of a 25in (63.5cm) screen floating about 8ft (2.4m) in front of the wearer's right eye, which can be used to display information from apps.

A built-in camera and microphone can record photos, video and sounds, while the machine can play back audio by sending vibrations through the wearer's skull using a bone conduction transducer, or via more traditional headphones.

Google pitches Glass as a hands-free, quick-to-use alternative to smartphones.

"We believe it's really to keep you engaged and present in the moment while having access to those things that are digitally available to you," Ivy Ross, head of the Glass division told the BBC.

She added that the eyewear had already gone through five hardware revisions and 12 software updates before its UK launch, and that Google planned further revisions before targeting Glass at consumers.

media captionIvy Ross, leader of the Google Glass project, talks to Rory Cellan-Jones

Many expect that will be accompanied by a price cut.

"To some extent, Google is using the current price to manage take-up, so that the only people buying it have strong reasons to do so - for example building apps," said Ian Fogg from the IHS Technology consultancy.

"The cost of the components involved in the current model is about $152.

"Clearly there are other costs involved in bringing it to market, but Google could create a much more compelling price if it chooses to."

Glass guidelines

Many of the UK organisations surveyed by the BBC are taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding whether to introduce rules to govern use of the kit.

image copyrightGoogle
image captionGoogle offers its Glass eyewear in a range of different styles

Ulster Hospital highlighted its no-photography rule, but added "it is obviously an area we will have to consider in the future".

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group- which runs six theatres in London - said it planned to "evaluate the implications of this new technology, especially with regard to the effect on the cast, creative team and members of the public", while the JD Wetherspoon chain of pubs said it planned to "discuss the matter in due course".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Vue cinema chain has banned customers from wearing Google Glass during film showings

Other firms appeared more relaxed.

British Airways said its customers could wear Glass at any time on board its aircraft, as long as they put it in flight safety mode when necessary.

Tesco said it had already developed a concept Glass app that could be used in its stores.

And Waterstones added: "As a bookshop it is difficult to see how Google Glass eyewear could cause us or our customers any difficulty beyond, of course, some mild ridicule."

A spokeswoman for Google noted that Glass lights up when it captures images, and that its battery limits it to taking a maximum of 45 minutes of video at a time.

Related Topics

  • Google
  • Tesco
  • Wearable technology
  • Apps

More on this story

  • Will the British take to Google Glass?

  • Google Glass: Interview with Ivy Ross on UK launch