A Pain in the Parse

I’ve pushed waves of tweaks to my Voice-Activated Timer Glassware since putting it on GitHub, and nearly all of them patch corner cases in Google’s speech-to-text. There are a lot of these.

Behold madness itself.

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“1&a half hours”?! What the actual hell?

Google’s voice recognition is nondeterministic like Guy Fieri is overweight. My parsing code has no fewer than five special cases for non-numeric versions of “1” alone, and that’s using case-insensitive matching. There’s no rhyme or reason for how Google picks syntax. Sometimes it’s “one and a half hours”. Sometimes it’s “1 and a half hours”. Sometimes it’s “1&a half hours”, which is on its own level of short-bus derpitude.

You know what would be nice? Deterministic voice recognition.

You know what would be better? On-device, restricted-vocabulary voice recognition. My innocent, morally-wholesome users, whom I respect greatly, have to wait five seconds for a server turnaround to find that Google has mangled their crisp speech into unrecognizable bullcrap.

Thanks to my users and their preoccupation with bug reports, it’s actually getting pretty bulletproof by now. Download the APK, use it yourself, and maybe you too will find a new corner case to call your own!

AutoHud: Your Car’s Performance Data on Glass

If you’re a journalist covering Glass, looking for The Next Big Thing in white-collar terror and moral panic, you’ve thought about driving with Glass. The distraction! The avoidable crashes! What a goldmine of terrifying link-bait headlines, ready to wrap around a shoddily-researched article!

I present Voidstar AutoHud, a Glass app designed to be used behind the wheel, that makes the driver safer.

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Voidstar AutoHud is a unique piece of Glassware, as it’s actually a combination of hardware and software. You plug a cheap OBD-II dongle into a port under your dashboard, hit Connect, and bam, you’ve got your speed, RPM, MPG, and fuel live in front of your eyes.

AutoHud is compatible with every vehicle sold in the US since 1996 (that’s when OBD-II was mandated) and can update as fast as your dashboard. It’s open-source and compatible with open hardware, so you can enforce that your driving data is yours alone.

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This app was developed to prove a point – that you can be safer with a wearable than without one. While I’m wearing Glass and running AutoHud, I don’t take my eyes off the road – my dashboard is in the sky above the asphalt everywhere I look.

You, on the other hand, take your eyes off the road every ten seconds or more to check the dials. That’s just unsafe. You also take your eyes off the road to check your phone and GPS, which makes me fear for my own safety.

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While AutoHud is running, it actually makes it harder to do distracting things on Glass. Like every Glass app that uses a Live Card, AutoHud blocks the wearer from using voice commands and checking notifications while active. If you cover Glass and didn’t know this, I recommend doing some research before your next big scare piece.

AutoHud is easy to install and use, and requires a car, an OBD dongle, and Google Glass. View the source and instructions at my GitHub, or just download the ready-to-install APK.

Right now, AutoHud displays the most important data on your dashboard – RPM, speed, instantaneous MPG, and remaining fuel. By popular demand, the next feature package will be a performance HUD with engine torque, engine load, throttle, and shifter position. Future updates will add an overspeed warning that knows the road’s speed limit, a post-trip report with cost of gas and performance summary, and automatic GPS logging to find your car.

The Five Lowest-Hanging Fruit of Google Glass

Dead-set on developing for Glass but don’t know where to start? Here are five of the most simple and helpful apps that you can build in a weekend.

  1. Photo Note – Open the app once to take a picture, open again to show the picture. It’s the virtual equivalent of writing a note on the back of your hand, good for remembering where you parked, peeking your shopping list, and saving something interesting to investigate later. Bonus features: Store and sort last five. Email all notes to you at the end of the day. Record a short snippet of voice as well.
  2. Workout Dashboard – Show your speed and time. Tap to set lap times or to fast-forward your music. This type of app is better for biking than running, since more bikers bring their phones along for the ride. Bonus features: Integrate speed to calculate distance and calories burned. Tie in to RunKeeper. Tie in with Bluetooth heart-rate monitors and cadence sensors. Display an overhead mini-map and your record time.
  3. Photo Bingo – A social game. Players get a 5×5 grid with names of interesting things (Volkswagen Beetle, starfruit, plaid with stripes, a duck). Taking a picture of one with Glass puts it on the grid. First person to complete five in a row wins. Bonus features: Community vetting of images instead of good faith. Team up. Use light sensor to prevent people from cheating with a computer monitor.
  4. Night Vision Goggle – Fun fact: Cameras like the one in Glass can see infrared light invisible to the eye. Create a camera app with the contrast turned WAY up and with a green tint. You can see in total darkness with the aid of a powerful infrared flashlight. Bonus feature: Start the app automatically when the flashlight is switched on. Make it a red tint instead – the eyes adjust faster to red light and it’s harder to see from the outside.
  5. Terminator Vision – Tint the screen red, add some noise, apply a simple convolution to highlight edges in white, overlay meaningless numbers or GPS coordinates, and make a crosshair that tracks the fastest-moving object. Now you can feel like the Terminator – or at least a 15° slice of your vision can. This is the ‘virtual beer’ app of Google Glass. Bonus feature: Make it actually do something useful.

Five Killer Apps for Google Glass

At this point, it’s inevitable that Google Glass and similar wearable technology is coming to market. The new question is, what will we do with it? Here are five potential killer apps for a device that’s always on, always connected, and always available – without being obnoxious or violating trust.

  1. Financial Management. It’s surprising how few people actually know their financial situation, especially considering a tough economy. This can go two ways – check your bank balance and credit limits in real-time, or track your budget and see how a purchase can fit into it. The first is similar to the cash readout on, say, Grand Theft Auto and is easy to grok. The second could help prevent identity theft and create a financial ‘sixth sense’.
  2. The Time. A wearable like Google Glass can actually create new meanings of time. A task clock that resets when check off a task or leave your seat can gently remind you to stay focused and take breaks. A world clock that shows the time at the last place you mentioned can help you respect your global contacts. These can sync to a logging application to passively assemble a timeline of your life.
  3. Foursquare/Yelp. Location-based social networks are massively superior to communication-based media on Google Glass. You can see ‘echoes’ of friends as you pass venues, find and flag undiscovered gems, catch ‘whiffs’ of reviews as you wander aimlessly, and capture reminders and mementos without being that guy with the camera Instagramming his food.
  4. Calendar and To-Do. Remembering your priorities, keeping an eye on the clock, and maintaining your to-do list are mentally taxing and just plain tedious. Google Glass will handle the heavy lifting, leaving you to focus on the task at hand and the pleasure of checking one off. Simply showing the time until your next appointment and your next to-do item is enough to isolate you from distraction. Wearables are really, really good at getting you organized – that’s why modern videogames put a quest arrow, waypoint, and objective on the HUD.
  5. News Ticker. This is the double-edged sword of Google Glass. A news ticker needs the motherlode of finesse to avoid tearing the user’s brain apart with distraction. If done properly, though, the user will be utterly up-to-the-minute without wasting time browsing RSS feeds, loaded with breaking stories, hyperlocal updates, industry bulletins, and all the other raw material to be a fascinating conversationalist and ultra-informed expert. Perhaps most importantly, this is the only place to insert ads and marketing material.

You’ll notice that these killer apps are almost all non-interactive text. Wearables, especially Google Glass, don’t have a lot of screen real estate to display elaborate chrome or pictures. Limited controls also mean limited onscreen widgets.

The UX paradigm of wearables is totally different than that of a smartphone – think ahead to keep your business and skills relevant in the wearable future!