Fashion forward? Springfield man first in Ozarks to sport glasses-like wearable computer

Jeff Thomas of Springfield walks around the MSU campus with Google Glass, a wearable computer. / Photo by Chris Brewer, web editor

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Jeff Thomas gets looks nearly everywhere he goes -- some quizzical, others odd, and some simply doing a double take.

The web systems analyst at Missouri State is just another person that wouldn't ordinarily stand out, except for a device he's wearing that looks similar to a pair of glasses mixed in with the aesthetics of a sci-fi film.

He gets even more stares when he asks a question to seemingly no one in particular. That's okay by him, however, because they can't see exactly what he sees -- the answer to what he's seeking, in a small screen above his eye.

What everyone's looking at is known simply as Google Glass, a wearable computer that enables one to do a variety of tasks, such as take pictures or video, send a text message, look at email and search for directions to a place.

Google Glass communicates with an Android smartphone -- in Thomas's case, a Nexus 4 -- to do tasks that Thomas simply has to ask the computer to do.

Talking to Glass is fairly simple. Thomas simply says "OK Glass," at which the device wakes up and he asks it to do something.

"How long is the Brooklyn Bridge?" Thomas asks, seemingly to no one in particular. As his head points straight forward, his eyes look upward and to the right, where a small translucent display shows him the answer: 5,988 feet, or 1,825 meters, take your pick. He shows the result on his Nexus 4 smartphone, which enables him to show off what he sees through Glass to other people.

Jeff Thomas is believed to be the first person in Springfield to get a hold of the wearable computer that first made its appearance at the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco, Calif. in 2012. To get Glass, Thomas had to sign up, fork over $1,500 for the Developer edition -- and wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Until last month, when lo and behold, he put them on for the first time. For the self-professed "Google fanboy," it was like Christmas. He wore it all day the first day he had it, but said it took some getting used to.

"The next day, I could tell my right eye, it was sore," Thomas said. "After that I would wear it for a couple hours at a time, and after a couple days of doing that I've been able to wear it all day. I don't have any problem -- my eye is used to it now."

Thomas says he generally lets people who are interested in the technology to try Glass for themselves, and shows them how to use it so they can see what it does.

"For people that don't know what it is, when you explain to them that it's a wearable computer ... they're really interested in at least trying it out and seeing where it goes," Thomas said.

In a day and age where studies have shown the increasing risks associated with cell phones and technology intermingling with such tasks as driving, Thomas believes Glass can actually help in that respect.

"I think it's different than walking around and texting because with a phone you have to use two hands and be focused on your device," Thomas said. "With Glass, I can speak my message and reply. I can continue doing what I'm doing without too much distraction."

If you want Google Glass for yourself -- unfortunately, at this point you're out of luck until they become mass produced. Google invited developers to apply first, which Thomas did -- then opened a contest of sorts for what they called "Explorers" -- where people submitted a short essay on what they would do if they had Glass.

As for the future of the device, Thomas says it's tough to predict what its main uses will be. The answer to the question of how widely adopted the device may or may not become remains up in the air. But Thomas says he's hopeful.

"I don't know what the experience will be for other people, but I hope it's a good one," Thomas said. "I think it very well could be a great experience for other people to kind of simplify their lives. It's still an early device, so I'm looking forward to how they improve it and the future of it."