Google Ventures is launching a new initiative to fuel the development of Google Glass called Glass Collective, in partnership with venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The three firms hope to fund a community of developers to make Google Glass the next major computing platform.
Google Glass is the wearable computing device that provides Internet content to the field of vision, along with photos, videos and speech-to-text technology. It’s not expected to be available to the public until later this year at the earliest. But Google plans to send the “explorer” version of the device to developers starting this month.
Bill Maris, managing partner at Google Ventures, had seen Glass as it has created and wanted to invest in the developers building companies and applications for Glass. So he invited Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins to form a group that will share information on deals in companies working on software, hardware, apps or related technology for Glass. Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins already are Google Ventures’ most frequent co-investors in deals overall, Maris said.
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This partnership will not have a new venture fund dedicated to Glass, since the firms have enough capital to invest, Maris said. But the structure is notable. Each firm will make its own investment decisions and has no obligation to invest. And entrepreneurs have no obligation to take any of the other firms’ money. But each firm will send all Glass related deals that it comes across to the other two firms for them to review. It’s a rarity in the venture world, where firms typically jealously guard deals and entrepreneurs like state secrets.
So why would Google do this if it could theoretically just invest without forming this group? From Google’s perspective, the company likely wants to plant its flag and claim ownership of the field of “wearable devices” or “Internet of things,” which is likely the next major wave of computing after mobile. So forming a larger partnership is one way to do that.
“At Google Ventures we’re not beholden to the traditional way things are done… The plus (of that) is: we could think creatively about what we could do here,” Maris said at a press briefing at Google Ventures Wednesday in Mountain View, Calif.
Developers such as Path and Twitter are already very interested in developing for Glass, Doerr said. This new venture collective should spur that interest.
Kleiner Perkins has a close connection with Google and Andreessen. Doerr met Andreessen about 20 years ago when he was starting the Mosaic browser, which would become Netscape, a Kleiner investment. Then five years later, Doerr met Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and later invested. Doerr, who first saw Glass about 20 months ago in September 2011–which he describes in a blog post–says this could be a similar transformative technology. “It feels a little like getting the band back together again,” Doerr said. “More than any other platform I’ve seen, I can’t imagine what they’ll do with this. It’s really different. It’s really radically new.”
Andreessen said Glass would become a platform like the web browser and could become as ubiquitous as the mobile phone. “The same way the browser was a window to the Internet, Glass is a whole new window to the Internet and reality,” Andreessen said. Glass can also be compared to another technology breakthrough 20 years ago, Andreessen said: the 3D graphics technology used in the Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic Park.
There are a number of other wearable devices that are great products, such as GoPro, but few actually can become a platform, Andresseen said. Glass is one of them, he said. You need a company like Google to build an ecosystem around, he said.
Andreessen cited two potential uses of Glass: first for medicine: surgeons and paramedics could use Glass to instantly get information while working. Secondly, a “zombie game,” which would be a kind of augmented reality game where certain people on the street are zombies. “You’re just walking around outside and you’re in the game,” he said.
Google cofounder Sergey Brin, who has overseen the development of Glass, dropped into the press briefing wearing Glass after a bicycle ride. Asked for an example of how Glass would be used, he said he wanted a viewfinder for his single lens reflex camera. Looking into a viewfinder is awkward for high-end cameras, but looking through Glass would be much easier, he said. (Glass can already snap photos itself.) He also wants a Glass integration with bicycles to track things like riding time, distance and heart rate.
Doerr sees Glass as not just augmented reality but “amplified reality,” where every direction you look you see something through Glass. The big change he noticed in the latest version was the power of the voice input, and “how different it is to speak to the world.” (You can speak to do things in Glass like Google search, ask for directions, take a picture or send a message.) Doerr is excited about Glass applications for education as well as health care. He cited companies like Udacity and Coursera and Khan Academy that are working on education but sees Glass as adding a whole new layer to education.
Computing is moving towards becoming “simulation engines” that will eventually show you information in a 3D format, Doerr said. For example, for Stanford University a device could eventually show you a 3D map of the campus with real-time traffic information, information about your lecture room and the class there, information about the subject there, such as biology in 3D, and so on. Now with Google Glass, Doerr says, you can not only see that but you can be immersed in that data. “Now you’re in it.”
Maris, who used to work at a neurobiology wet lab, sees Glass being used for scientists to load protocols to review while working. He also said he recently spent a weekend with two people using Google Glass who took pictures with it. “I didn’t know what they were doing. At the end of the weekend, they showed me… It was horrifying and fun. That was transformative to me. You can see from Steve’s point of view. Nothing’s posed. You’re not picking up a camera and putting a wall between you. You’re able to capture moments with friends and family that’s a lot more authentic than I’ve been able to capture.”
As for how developers will make money on Google Glass, Maris said that’s not an immediate concern. “You build it first. If it’s really interesting and worthwhile something will come out of it,” Maris said.
Asked whether it’s weird to wear Google Glass, Maris said, “I challenge that notion. Lots of people wear glasses on their face.” He also said contact lenses were once thought to be strange.
Google has previously shown some applications of Google Glass with companies such as Path, Evernote and the New York Times. But this partnership is designed to open up interest much more broadly.
Kleiner Perkins has previously created the iFund for iPhone apps and the sFund for social startups. Andreessen Horowitz meanwhile has previously invested in the Start Fund which invested in all Combinator companies.