By Frederic Friedel
Everyone is doing it: Google Glass, the Pebble, Apple Watch, Android Wear, Samsung Gear. Computers are getting smaller and can be built to accompany you wherever you go. Now Google X, the semi-secret facility run by the search giant, is working on a dental computer.
I have friends in the Google headquarters in Mountain View, and so I was able to witness the development of the Tooth project, right from the start.
Let us take a look at the hardware involved. The first step was developing a communications chip that connects to an Android phone, but was small enough to embed into a (prosthetic) molar.
The device is implanted in the jaw in place of an extracted molar
In the initial test version, developed at the Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering at National Taiwan University in Taipei, the prosthetic tooth was connected by wires [Photo and report: Reuters]. Note that Google envisions two implants to give you full stereo sound.
Naturally one of the biggest problems is battery life. Experiments, carried out at the Canadian Abbott College research facilities, with a detachable crown sitting on an implanted stem, did not produce a viable solution.
Currently Google Tooth can be charged inductively, using a tiny pad inserted inside the mouth for about fifteen minutes. A full charge lasts about half a day. The Tooth can be recharged with a power pack, while you are driving or commuting. The developers are working on additional insulation of the pad to eliminate the tingling sensation it currently causes.
There is encouraging news in form of an extremely low power technology that can be used in wearables. It is being developed by Atmel, a San Jose-based company, and is based on a new SAM L21 32-bit ARM family of microcontroller which consumes less than 35 microamps of power per megahertz of processing speed while active, and less than 200 nanoamps of power overall when in deep sleep mode — with varying states in between. The chip can even be powered off energy capture from the body, which boosts battery life. The hardware can theoretically run off a single battery charge for over ten years — or half a year in a device as small as Google Tooth.
One of the great advantages of Google Tooth is that it requires no external headphones or ear plugs — sound is transmitted directly from the device through the jaw bones to the ear. It is advisable to have two devices implanted, one on each side of the mouth, for full stereophonic audio which, we are told, is on par with a high-end headset. Four electronic molars implants, it turned out, did not give satisfactory surround, and the test volunteers said they were okay with just two molars switched on.
Communicating with Google Tooth is done with voice — you simply speak softly as if to yourself. For instance saying “Okay Google” under your breath will, as in current Android smartphones, initiate a voice search. The answers are received through the audio jawbone feedback. Example: “Okay Google, do I need an umbrella tomorrow” will give you a weather report for your current location. And do we need to tell you how useful it is to be able to say “Okay Google, direct me to Sea World” while driving down the highway?
A chess connection
One of the things the engineers used while testing Google Tooth was chess software, running on external devices: Android smartphones, Android Watches, and even on the latest Apple Watch.
The smart phone or watch does not need to be in close proximity to the Tooth — it can be located anywhere in the world, since communication can be conducted by WiFi. Google Tooth can be used to drive an app that connects it to the Playchess server, as we were able to demonstrate in our trial setup
Incidentally a well-known chess engine programmer is currently working on a system that would only require taps of the tongue to input moves — “in case the whispering is disturbing people around you.” It is possible to play entire games that way.
What the future will bring
Exciting as the above new wearable may be, the future may hold an even more alluring development in store. As we have discovered, Google has filed a US patent for embedding microscopic cameras into contact lenses, enabling the wearer to take photographs of their direct line of vision.
The patent details how wearers will be able to control the camera
through a sophisticated system using the owner’s unique blinking patterns
Each lens will contain several tiny camera components and sensors without
obstructing the vision of the wearer [Source: The Telegraph, April 15, 2014]
The Washington-based startup Innovega has developed the practical implementation of a natural eyewear-based platform. It is called iOptik and provides a ‘virtual canvas’ on which any media can be viewed or application run. Stephen Willey, Innovega CEO said: “Our optics deliver games that are truly ‘immersive’, movies that mimic IMAX performance, a multi-tasking dashboard that incorporates five or more typical screens — all while simultaneously providing the wearer a safe and clear view of their environment.”
Unfortunately with the current Android hardware the playing strength of these surreptitious wearable enhancements will provide a rating level of 2950 Elo points. That is only a hundred more than the current human World Champion. But: within a few years the rating should go up to 3600, which will give great satisfaction to tournament chess players.