Monday, March 18, 2013

'Glass' could help people with disabilities

Google's project Glass offers 'augmented reality' - computer and smart phone technology - through a pair of glass spectacles.

Google's Glass project
Glass is controlled via voice commands, rather than any form of keyboard. It also superimposes text over the view through the glasses - a form of the 'heads up display' being installed in the windscreens of planes and - soon - some cars.

To promote Glass, Google ran a competition online - 'If I Had Glass' - that attracted thousands of ideas (sorry - it closed on February 27). Many of these consisted, essentially, of doing the sorts of things that we do already on laptops and tablets, e.g. presenting reviews of hotels and restaurants, analysing information about meals and workouts to track daily calorie turnover. More interestingly, disability advocacy group Media Access Australia (MAA) ( has grasped the potential for Glass to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.

So Che was an early adopter of Glass!
MAA's suggestions concern three areas. The first is mobility, where the device's reliance on voice commands could enable people with conditions (e.g. arthritis, quadriplegia) that restrict their mobility to perform tasks normally associated with keyboards. Secondly, Glass could help people with impaired hearing. Already, it can display captions automatically; as the software develops, Glass could convert speech to text and superimpose it over the view through the glasses, 'essentially making real life conversation captioned' (MAA) and providing access to information communicated aurally (e.g. train time updates). Finally, while Glass has been developed with only sighted users in mind, MAA sees opportunities for it to assist people with sight impairments. 'For instance, Glass could integrate facial recognition software so that blind users are made aware of who is in front of them. Similarly, Glass could use optical character recognition to read out information such as street signs or identify landmarks.' (MAA)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New TV - screen or pane?

One of Philips's promotional images

Glass enthusiasts will be interested to see 'DesignLine' - a new range of 'smart' televisions just launched by electronics company Philips.

The 'DesignLine' television consists of a single rectangular sheet of glass (46 or 55 inches wide) that shades from transparent to black and can lean against a wall, hang from it or be mounted on a stand. Does that make it a TV screen or a TV pane? The pictures are generated by a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). 

Click on the link below to see a promotional video - note the absence of children, dogs or any of the business of a normal home! 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Changes in Australia's glass industry

Imminent plant closures by glass company Viridian Glass will change the shape of the Australian glass industry significantly.

Viridian is owned by building materials giant CSR, which announced today that Viridian's float and laminating glass factory in Ingleburn in south-west Sydney will close in July. Most of the work will be transferred to the company's Dandenong factory in Victoria, supplemented by some imports. CSR also announced that Viridian's two factories in Wetherill Park and Erskine Park, New South Wales, will merge by January 2014. At the same time, says CSR,Viridian is improving the quality of its products, its delivery times and its flexibility in responding to orders.

CSR blames the closure and merger on two factors. First, the high Australian dollar has meant that Viridian has suffered from stiff price competition internationally, especially by China. Indeed, Viridian will stop making glass-panel sliding doors locally, instead outsourcing them to China. Secondly, 40 per cent of Viridian's sales come from the hard-hit commercial construction sector of the building industry, which is expected to recover more slowly than predicted. (The residential sector appears to be improving - albeit modestly - in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland.)

The moves are expected to cost around $34 million and to boost annual earnings by $27 million from 2015. An estimated 150 jobs will be lost.

Dominant industry player

Viridian Glass is one of three companies that, between them, generate two-thirds of the revenue in the $3.23 billion Australian glass industry (the other two are Amcor and Owens-Illinois Australia). Viridian manufactures flat and rolled glass for the Australia and New Zealand markets and offers bulk processing services (e.g. cutting, laminating, toughening and mirroring) to glass distributors and to manufacturers of windows, shower screens, furniture and solar panels.

Building materials giant CSR bought Viridian at the height of the building cycle in 2007 for $865 million. However, CSR subsequently wrote-down Viridian's value to $214 million, because of the combination of the high dollar, cheaper imports and the decline in the construction industry. The acquisition still makes sense, because many of Viridian's products - especially its plate glass - align with other products in the construction-oriented CSR group.

1. CSR News release (11 March 2013) 'Restructure of Viridian glass operations and trading update.'
2. Ibis World (nd) 'Glass and glass product manufacturing in Australia: Market research report.'

3. Wen, P. (3 August 2011) 'Cracks appear in a besieged glass industry.' Sydney Morning Herald.