Google Glass app identifies friends by their clothing

Researchers at Duke University have demonstrated what could be the first app for Google Glass—and yes, it's a little bit creepy.

Dubbed InSight, the system recognizes people by the clothing they wear, so someone using Google's high-tech glasses could pick out friends in a crowd even if their backs are turned. As New Scientist reports, the system is partly funded by Google, and was demonstrated last week at a technology conference in Georgia.

InSight's research paper [PDF] offers more details. The system requires friends to have a companion app on their smartphones that takes “a few opportunistic pictures” while the user is doing ordinary things, such as checking e-mail and browsing the Web. These photos create a “self-fingerprint” of the person's clothing, which can be shared with Google Glass users via Bluetooth or the Internet. At that point, Google Glass could match the clothing it sees against the system's database of self-fingerprints.

The paper describes other possible methods to improve accuracy, such as snapping a short video to determine a person's “motion vector.” Also, once the system recognizes someone, it can add information to the fingerprint, making that person even easier to pick out in a crowd.

google glass insightInSight
How InSight works: Bob's phone announces his name and fingerprint to the vicinity; Alice's phone computes fingerprints from her glass, matches them against those received from the vicinity, and recognizes Bob.

Convenient or creepy?

The privacy implications of an app that automatically takes pictures of people for identification purposes are not lost on Duke's researchers. The paper discusses how users could choose to take photos of themselves manually, or require approval of any photos that are taken automatically.

In any case, the system of identifying people by their clothing seems like an elaborate workaround for straight-up facial recognition, which could be more useful, but would also be a lot creepier. I could imagine a clothing-based recognition system being useful for remembering the name of someone you met at a party earlier in the evening. (Of course, getting to the point where Google Glass is acceptable at social functions is another issue entirely.)

InSight seems to be the first Glass application by a third-party to be discussed publicly. Although some developers have talked in broad strokes about their Glass plans, we've heard few specifics. Google itself revealed specific features for the device only a few weeks ago, and has enforced strict nondisclosure agreements for the developer events it has hosted.

At the moment, Glass prototypes are available only to developers, but Google plans to sell the $1500 prototypes to a handful of users who can prove they'll put Glass to good use. The finished product will arrive late this year priced at under $1500.

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