Google Glass, the wearable gadget from the search engine giant that has yet to become a roaring consumer success, could make a big splash among San Diego sailors.
At least that's what an experimental Navy project called Ocean AR, short for "Augmented Reality," hopes will happen, though thus far it appears to be another of the military establishment's costly solutions in search of a problem, and may even cause dangerous addictions.
“It’s a project aimed at trying to find applications and demonstrate those applications for Google Glass in full-spectrum Naval operations," Dr. Josh Kvavle, an electrical engineer at the Navy's San Diego SPAWAR digs, recently told the Pentagon's "Armed with Science" website.
"The purpose of it is to demonstrate the look and feel of these apps. They’re not fully developed apps. They are just a demonstration of what could be done if we had access to Navy networks. The idea behind Google glass is that it’s a heads up display that gives you access to prompt information.”
“The question that we’ve been trying to answer is, ‘how would that be done in the Navy, how would you use that’," Kvavle continued. "Someone needs to figure out how the Navy is going to stay in phase with these developments and that’s what I’m hoping to do.
"Video games have figured out a lot of things, but our problem is we don’t have displays that are wearable and can be carried around yet. I would say that even video games haven’t tapped into the full potential of augmented reality.”
Last week the device was consumer-tested on a few curious members of the Navy's rank-and-file at a workshop held on Coronado.
"Eager to get your hands on Google Glass?" asked an invitation to the December 16 event. "SPAWAR is bringing this type of technology (Augmented Reality, or AR) to the Navy but we need YOUR input to help decide how it can and should be used.
“The sky (or bottom of the ocean) is the limit! Come try out the glass, and then give us your ideas for how the Navy can implement AR into operations. This is your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of ground-breaking capability development for the U.S Navy."
The Navy was pleased enough with the turnout that it later posted a photo of the event on one of its Facebook pages.
It wasn't the seagoing service's first encounter with the geeky Google Glass. In February of this year, Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the Pacific Fleet, was brave enough to show up at a weapon vendors conference here adorned with the device.
“We’ve got a big shopping list," Harris told the assembled military contractors at an event called 2014 West. "We need platforms, we need weapons systems, cyber tools, handheld devices and, yes, even cool wearable optical devices — or WODs — like the one I’m wearing.
"If it makes us better war fighters, we’re interested. Interested, but skeptical.
"Because not only do we need technology that allows us to do our jobs better, we need technology that is resilient and reliable whether we’re ashore or at sea, and it’s got to be secure, and it’s got to be affordable.
“Wearable computers like the one I’m wearing today may only meet one or two of those requirements today, but it’s gotta meet them all tomorrow.”
Besides the cost to taxpayers, the on-face gizmos may also be taking an addictive toll. In October, the Guardian reported that a San Diego sailor had to be detoxed from habitual use.
"The man had been using the technology for around 18 hours a day – removing it only to sleep and wash – and complained of feeling irritable and argumentative without the device," the newspaper reported.
"In the two months since he bought the device, he had also begun experiencing his dreams as if viewed through the device’s small grey window."
The 31-year-old sailor had checked in the Navy's Substance Abuse and Recovery Program here. He was required to surrender his electronic devices at the door, after which withdrawal symptoms soon emerged.
"The patient exhibited a notable, nearly involuntary movement of the right hand up to his temple area and tapping it with his forefinger," says a paper in the journal Addictive Behaviors written by treatment staffers at the Naval Medical Center.
"He reported that if he had been prevented from wearing the device while at work, he would become extremely irritable and argumentative."
As his recovery progressed, the sailor’s Google Glass dependency waned, the paper says.
"Over the course of his 35-day residential treatment, the patient noted a reduction in irritability, reduction in motor movements to his temple to turn on the device, and improvements in his short-term memory and clarity of thought processes.
“He continued to intermittently experience dreams as if looking through the device."