May 20 at 08:00
Google is bulking up on patents to protect its new augmented reality glasses project from legal attack, with at least nine new patents issued recently to cover various aspects of the futuristic devices. The patents provide a glimpse into what a heads-up display from Google could provide to real-life users beyond what we learned when Google unveiled Project Glass last month.
Perhaps most interestingly, one patent shows Google is working on a system to help hard-of-hearing and deaf users detect and interpret nearby sounds. The glasses' heads-up display would show arrows and flashing lights to indicate the direction and intensity level of the sound, and even display the words nearby people are speaking.
The patent, #8,183,997, was issued to Google today and is titled "Displaying sound indications on a wearable computing system." The system would integrate a speech-to-text feature that determines the text of speech and displays it for the wearer of the glasses.
We should note that the patent does not specifically mention Project Glass, or even the word "glasses." It does, however, talk about a head-mounted device including lens-frames. At one point, it mentions a "head-mounted helmet structure," which makes the whole thing sound much more bulky than the augmented reality eyeglasses Google is developing. But one of the two inventors listed on the patent, Adrian Wong, is associated with Project Glass. Additionally, several of the images included with the patent show glasses that look quite similar to the Project Glass prototypes displayed by Google last month. Here's one of them:
Google hopes the technology will help people with limited hearing avoid danger. "A user may be at a crosswalk attempting to cross a street, and an oncoming car may be honking at the user in order to alert to the user that the car is driving through the crosswalk," Google notes in the patent description. "It may be helpful to indicate to the user the direction from which the honk is coming (e.g., from the left or the right), and the intensity of the honk (e.g., in order to indicate how close the oncoming car it to the user)."
Other aspects of the patent include a "finger-operable touch pad" on the head-mounted device for accepting user input and microphones spaced around the wearable device to ensure detection of sounds from outside the wearer's field of view. There would also be multiple video cameras to capture various views, and the option to "overlay computer-generated graphics in the user's view of the physical world."
In addition to speech transcription, the text indications could tell the user the source of a sound—for example, a dog, cat, human, musical instrument, or car.