There Was A ‘Glass’ Before Google Came Along, And It Was Used In Antarctica In 2001

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Whether you think Google Glass is something you’d wind up using one day, you have to admit that the technology is impressive. Packed inside of the pair of specs is a computer running Android, camera and all of the wireless capabilities you’d need. The idea of wearable computers is nothing new, and a team that explored Antarctica actually had their own pair of “Glass” long before it was en vogue.

In a blog post chronicling the team’s experience, Tina Sjogren remembers what it was like to pull together a wearable computer running Windows 98, paired with a “finger” mouse for controls and a glass screen as its display. It sounds a lot like an early version of Google Glass, but this was a technological marvel, considering that it was built and used at the South Pole in 2001.

The specs of the device, which was called “South Pole Wearable,” are nothing short of amazing, including custom built software to share information and post photos. It was also solar powered, something that Google Glass could really use. It didn’t use 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi and instead relied on satellites:
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Finger Mouse
Wrist Keyboard
HUD (VGA Heads Up Display, Eye-trek Glasses by Olympus)
Wearable Windows 98 computers
Daylight flat panel display
Customized Technology vests
Shoulder Mounted Web Camera
Bluetooth near person network
Iridium data over satellite
Power converters
Solar cells
Control and Command voice software
CONTACT blogging software
Image editing, word processing

The entire kit weighed 15 pounds, which is almost double what the original Google Glass prototype weighed — about 8 pounds. It now weighs about as much as an average pair of sunglasses.

antarctica5Tina and Tom Sjogren set forth to build something that allowed them to transfer all types of information as they skied through the snowy South Pole. Sharing this type of information in real time was not something that many could wrap their brains around, therefore the pair didn’t get the type of attention for their device that Google is getting for Glass today. Tina says:

We wore a computer on our hips, a mouse in our pocket, and the glass was our screen. We did it not to show off but because we had no other choice.

She also sees a future for Google Glass and regular consumers: “New technology often needs time to catch on and I can see a future for Google Glass today. It will come down to how sleek and useful they are. A stylish design paired with all the wonders of augmented reality – what’s not to love?”

“Cool, maybe the time has come for this tech”

Wearing Google Glass wasn’t the experience that Tina and Tom had back in 2001, as Tina refers to their display as “too bulky to wear all of the time.” The eye piece on their device had greenish text which, much like Google Glass, didn’t obstruct your view. It even had voice commands. The two even slept in their gear at nights, to keep it warm and protect it from the elements. In 2002, they became the first to broadcast live photos and sounds from the Antarctic ice cap.

The trekkers counted on Ericcson as their sponsor during the mission, and here’s a drawing they made of a “future explorer” wearing their device:

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I spoke with Tina today, and she told me that the reason for building the device was based on their love of exploration: “Our specialty is to find and marry software and hardware for unique situations such as extreme expeditions, military, security and other.” The purpose of building the device was simple, yet profound: “We had a story to tell. There had never been live dispatches done from a skiing expedition on the continent before. We also helped General Dynamics with feedback on how this could work on aircraft carriers.”

Twelve years after the Sjogren team set out on their adventure, Google is trying to make the world around us equally as interesting with Glass. It’s too soon to know whether it will catch on with consumers once they’re made available to people other than developers.

If we’ve learned anything from Tina and Tom, it’s that good ideas have this way of coming back year after year, getting better and more polished each time.

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As Google Glass has gotten more publicity, Tina summarized her feelings about it succinctly, capturing the true mentality of someone who loves to see new things, explore new places and share experiences: “Cool, maybe the time has come for this tech.”