At first glance, Thad Starner does not look out of place at Google. A pioneering researcher in the field of wearable computing, Starner is a big, charming man with unruly hair. But everyone who meets him does a double take, because mounted over the left lens of his eyeglasses is a small rectangle. It looks like a car's side-view mirror made for a human face. The device is actually a minuscule computer monitor aimed at Starner's eye; he sees its display—pictures, e-mails, anything—superimposed on top of the world, Terminator-style.
Starner's heads-up display is his own system, not a prototype of Project Glass, Google's recently announced effort to build augmented-reality goggles. In April, Google X, the company's special-projects lab, posted a video in which an imaginary user meanders around New York City while maps, text messages, and calendar reminders pop up in front of his eye—a digital wonderland overlaid on the analog world. Google says the project is still in its early phases; Google employees have been testing the technology in public, but the company has declined to show prototypes to most journalists, including myself.