Steve Mann, the pioneer behind wearable computers like Google’s Glass AR headset and head of MIT’s wearable computers group has been allegedly assaulted in a case that acts to highlight the potential privacy issues behind connected, computerised heads-up displays.
Mann had been travelling across France whilst researching his wearable Google Glass style EyeTap heads-up display, a system that Mann stated as being “permanently attached and does not come off my skull without special tools.”
Due to the sensitive nature of carrying cameras around certain institutions like museums, galleries and sensitive security areas like airports, Mann had apparently brought extensive documentation with him on the trip, explaining what the headset was, and with a note from his doctor explaining it couldn’t be removed.
While Mann had no problems walking around all other locations on his trip around France, the headset caused offence in a branch of the McDonald’s fast food chain.
“Because we’d spent the day going to various museums and historical landmark sites guarded by military and police, I had brought with me the letter from my doctor regarding my computer vision eyeglass, along with documentation, etc., although I’d not needed to present any of this at any of the other places I visited (McDonald’s was the only establishement that seemed to have any problem with my eyeglass during our entire 2 week trip,” said Mann.
Though employees initially allowed him to order food, things got a little hairy soon after with two employees trying to forcibly remove the headset whilst another tore up his documentation. The McDonald’s employees inadvertently activated a recording function on the headset, with Mann capturing the whole incident as evidence.
“The computerized eyeglass processes imagery using Augmediated Reality, in order to help the wearer see better, and when the computer is damaged, e.g. by falling and hitting the ground (or by a physical assault), buffered pictures for processing remain in its memory, and are not overwritten with new ones by the then non-functioning computer vision system,” added Mann.
“As a result of Perpetrator 1′s actions, therefore images that would not have otherwise been captured were captured. Therefore by damaging the Eye Glass, Perpetrator 1 photographed himself and others within McDonalds.”
Mann has tried to contact McDonald’s about the incident but has had no word back from the chain.
“I’m not seeking to be awarded money,” says Mann.
“I just want my Glass fixed, and it would also be nice if McDonald’s would see fit to support vision research.”
The incident acts to highlight the new privacy concerns that the growing interest in wearable computers brings up. Do they count as a camera or a computer? Should there be limits as to where they can be used? Can they be classified as a security risk in sensitive locations? With the launch of Google’s Glass headset looking to launch in the near future, there are still many issues surrounding the technology that need to be addressed.