How Google Glass Technology Works and What Makes It Tick

Created: August 21, 2017
Updated: August 3, 2020

Boy with magic wand in hand

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” If that’s the case then Google must employ a lot of witches and warlocks. They’ve been pushing the tech envelope for years and many of their ideas are now coming to fruition. Products like their self-driving cars are here, and I’m personally hopeful about a smart sensor platform that Google helped fund. By far the coolest take we’ve been waiting for, though, is Google Glass. The Glass inspired all of us in 2012 and 2013 and made us think about a world where the Internet and all its glory was available in the blink of an eye. Those dreams getting closer as Google has recently announced that it's back with Glass Enterprise Edition ("Glass Enterprise"). Let’s take a look at how the first Glass worked and what components allowed it to function. Then we can take some educated guesses as to what we’ll find in the new Glass EE.

How Does Google Glass Work?

If you're wondering how does Google Glass work, you're not alone. One of the best things about Google Glass enterprise edition is its elegant simplicity. When I first saw it, I truly thought there must be some wizardry involved in making it operate. On further inspection, though, it turns out Google’s engineers are muggles just like the rest of us. They use a clever prism and projector system to beam information directly into your eye. That information is gathered and processed by a tiny computer and its accompanying chips mounted in one of the legs of the Glass.

The thing I found the most mysterious about the Glass when I first saw it was how it actually displayed images. Other smart glasses have a screen directly in front of the eye, so it’s quite obvious where pictures are going to appear. The Glass, however, has only a small prism mounted to the side of the eye. It turns out the Glass uses a small projector to produce images, and the prism redirects them into your eye. This is an incredibly clever way to do it, as barely obstructs the user’s vision, while still allowing them to see the interface. Less innovative products simply look like a pair of sunglasses with tiny screens, and everyone knows wearing sunglasses anywhere but outside isn’t cool. With its prism and projector, Google has a more futuristic aesthetic that separates it from the herd.

The rest of the Glass is similar to other embedded systems in everything but form. It uses a battery to power a microprocessor, touchpad, sensors, microphone, bone-conduction speaker, and camera. The camera can be used to take pictures or video. The microphone is for dictating text and issuing commands, while the touchpad gives you a more tactile navigation option.

Man wearing Google Glass
Google Glass in operation. Editorial credit: Frederic Legrand - COMEO /

Original Glass Components

If we want to postulate about what the new Glass EE will be packing, we’ll need to look back at the original Glass’ chips. I’m going to hit the highlights, but there are multiple full teardowns available.

  • Processor - The Glass uses the TI’s OMAP4430 chip, which is designed for mobile processing applications.

  • Display - This device can beam images to you in 640x360 resolution with a screen that fits on a dime.

  • Battery - Google used a Lithium Polymer battery with an estimated capacity of 570 mAh to power this thing.

  • Memory - The Glass packs a surprising amount of memory for a pair of glasses with 16 GB NAND and 1 GB SDRAM.

  • Camera - To let others see through your eyes you can use a 5 MP camera to snap pictures or record video at 720p.

Building with Intel logo on it
Google is expected to use a new low power Atom processor for the Glass EE. Editorial credit: StockStudio /

Glass EE Components

While those specs may have made us think it was magic back in 2012 in order to remain “sufficiently advanced” Google is going to need to up the ante. Fortunately, they plan to, and we have a little bit of information on how they’re going to do it.

  • Processor - For the new Glass EE Google has said they plan to use one of Intel’s Atom processors. We’re not sure which one yet, but I’m sure it will be powerful enough to run apps, stream video, and do everything else you want it to.

  • Display - Rumor has it the new model will have a larger prism. However, the resolution is expected to remain at 640x360.

  • Battery - Batteries have made a few advances since 2012, especially Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries. It’s not clear what type of battery will be used, but capacity is expected to increase to 780 mAh.

  • Memory - It’s been reported that the memory in the Glass EE will double. That means 32 GB of storage and 2 GB of ram.

  • Camera - You’ll be able to document your work in higher resolution with the new version as it will have an 8 MP camera.

  • Other - There are a few other improvements that will come with the next generation of Glass. Apparently, the new model will use a normal speaker rather than a bone conduction speaker. It will support dual band WiFi at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Bluetooth capabilities will also be improved with multiple connection capabilities. Another major change will be a foldable design, making it more like a traditional pair of glasses.

All of these potential upgrades have me very excited about Glass Enterprise. It’s already a proven product, having gone to work in multiple industries and helped them improve efficiency. If you explain to your boss how Google Glass Enterprise Edition works, maybe it will seem less like black magic and more like a great office tool. I hope you’re as excited as I am to see the new and improved Glass come into use again.

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