Google is working on a new wearable technology effort known as Project Aura and is hiring consumer electronics experts from Amazon’s secretive Lab 126 to jump-start the new group.
Project Aura appears to have gotten started in June and is focused on reviving Google’s troubled Glass computer eyeglasses as well as accelerating Google’s efforts to develop related wearable technology.
Project Aura will remain within Google rather than being a standalone company under the new Alphabet holding company or being folded into the the Nest smart appliances business, a source familiar with the matter told Business Insider. Nest CEO Tony Fadell will continue to have high-level oversight of the project though it’s unclear what will happen after Nest becomes a separate Alphabet company, the source said.
Google has hired at least three employees from Lab 126, Amazon’s secretive hardware division, to work in the new group and Aura has a dedicated recruiter tasked with bringing in more talent.
Several LinkedIn profiles and job listings viewed by Business Insider describe Project Aura as “Google Glass and Beyond.”
(Project Aura is not be be confused with Project Ara, Google’s modular phone concept.)
The new Aura group provides a much-needed re-branding to the tattered Glass image as well as opening the door to a broader scope of wearable technology initiatives to help Google compete against rivals such as Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.
By remaining withing Google, the Aura group will be able to collaborate more closely with other advanced technology efforts such as Soli, which allows consumers to control gadgets through gestures such as rubbing fingers together. While virtual reality technology is an growing area of focus within the technology industry, particularly as Facebook preps the release of its Oculus VR headset, the source said it is still too soon to know whether the Aura group will focused specifically on VR.
Although Business Insider first spotted Google job postings that indicated that the company planned to release other products in the Google Glass division besides just smart eyewear back in May, the existence of the Project Aura group and its new hires has not been reported until now.
Google stopped selling the initial $US1,500 version of Glass to consumers earlier this year following waning interest and criticism that the device was too expensive and clunky, without enough practical use cases. The head-mounted device, which allowed users to record video, also raised privacy concerns and caused a consumer backlash. Google continues to sell Glass to businesses for use in the workplace and is reportedly working on a new enterprise version of the device.
Lab 126 experts
Dima Svetlov, whose LinkedIn profile says he worked on Amazon’s TV streaming stick, joined Aura as a software development manager in May. Amir Frenke joined in June as a director of software development. Tina Chen left Lab126 in August after working on its TV streaming box and smart home assistant, Echo and now works as Aura’s manager of technical program management.
Lab126, which makes consumer devices like Amazon’s Kindle e-readers, TV streaming products, and the ill-received Fire smartphone, reportedly laid off dozens of engineers who had worked on the phone earlier this summer.
Svetlov, Frenke, and Chen, whose LinkedIn profiles don’t reveal any details about Project Aura besides the description that it works on Glass “and beyond,” are joined Apple veteran Max Ratner, who worked on the iPhone.
The project even has its own designated recruiter, Jessica Bailow, who has been focused on Aura since June, according to her LinkedIn profile. And Google recently posted several job openings for the Aura team including a program manager for category development, an industrial designer and a UX designer.
Business Insider also recently reported that Adrian Wong, the former Google Glass lead electrical engineer who had defected to Facebook-owned virtual reality startup Oculus, quietly rejoined Google in June. His LinkedIn profile describes his now job only as “building blocks” for Alphabet / Google. However, the added description that “G is for Gadgets, Glasses, and Goggles” suggests that he may be working on Project Aura as well.
Google declined to comment.