Google’s Latest Secret Prototype: A Communicator Straight Out Of Star Trek

Captain Picard is not so sure about this.

Captain Picard is not so sure about this.

In the future, you talk to your computers. That’s what Star Trek taught us, anyway, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume it’s true. And apparently some engineers over at Google, who actually can make it so, feel the exact same way.

For those of us who grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation every week, the communicator was a bold new idea: tap a gadget on your chest, or just talk to the air, and a context-sensitive computer will know exactly when you want to talk to it and, theoretically, do exactly what you ask. In the era when a one-piece Macintosh computer with a mouse was still a brand-new and very expensive gadget, the entire concept was still squarely in the realm of science fiction.

In 2015 — a world with Kinect and Cortana, Siri and Google Now — that communicator no longer seems quite so farfetched. So when Time reports that a team at Google basically made one to see what would happen, well, that seems unsurprising too.

The prototype device doesn’t have the fancy asymmetrical rounded triangle shape we’ve come to expect from the Federation, because that’s Paramount’s intellectual property. But the round device Google made does work almost the same way, using existing tech.

Basically, it’s a microphone and a Bluetooth connection, Google explained to Time. You talk to the pin, and it talks to a local smartphone. Majel Barrett sounding as synthetic as possible it isn’t, but it is as likely to return search results as basically anything else.

The point of the prototype, Time explains, was to see how people interact with their wearable tech. If you give them a pin you can tap on and talk to, with sound outputs either through an embedded speaker or to headphones, will people actually use it for quick search instead of digging their phones out of their pockets or bags? (Or, specifically, will they use it for anything other than “Beam me up” jokes?)

Google didn’t share how the research is going, so who knows if you’ll be buying your own hands-free communicator anytime soon. But improvements in voice control, natural-language interaction, and hands-free wearables are being pushed in a big way across the entire tech industry tight now. It could happen.

And why? Well, because all the nerds who make the stuff were watching TNG as kids, too.

“I always wanted that pin,” Amit Singhal, the executive in charge of Google’s search initiatives, told Time. “You just ask it anything and it works. That’s why we were like, ‘Let’s go prototype that and see how it feels.'”

Google Made a Secret Prototype That Works Like the Star Trek Communicator [Time]

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