Google Glass kicked off their Glass rollout at a launch event at Durham’s American Tobacco Campus on Saturday, attracting hundreds of people over the course of the day who tried out the wearable computing and Internet gear.

Glass enthusiasts started gathering at 8 AM on Saturday morning, two hours prior to the public launch. By 10 AM, the queue was nearly 400 people.

In the first public demo event – of a dozen planned events across the United States – the Glass team brought more than one hundred Glass devices to be used in seven-minute increments by a public that ranged from diehard fans to interested passers-by.

Glass In Action: Not Obtrusive, but Not Perfect

I joined the group of die-hard enthusiasts – all of whom had arrived slightly before 8 AM – as one of the first ten people in the door.

After signing a release waiver – allowing Google to use our images in future marketing material – our group was herded to an “orientation area” in Bay 7 of the American Tobacco Campus.

“The project came from our Moonshot Lab,” said Carlos Salguero, our Glass Guide, “we’re trying to not just do ten percent better, but ten times better.”

Salguero explained the product, using a screencast tablet to show what we would soon see above our right eyes in Glass’ retina display. We browsed photos of Cam Newton and searched for local barbeque, as well as learned to take photos and video by voice and touch commands.

Despite a small issue with the screencast – due to a limited bandwidth at the venue – the orientation was smooth, and we were allowed to take off our training wheels and try devices for ourselves.

“The whole idea is that you’re still in the world around you,” said Salguero, which the device is able to achieve.

My device – in Gettysburg College Orange – fit well, after a simple adjustment and was more lightweight and less obtrusive than I had previously imagined.

Because the demo devices were not configured to individual users, the wealth of data that Google has on individual users was not accessible. Still, though, our demo devices were set up to search or use “anything Google has in its knowledge base,” said Salguero.

I have no doubt that when perfected, Google Now will integrate seamlessly with a user’s Glass experience, providing an incredibly quick and easy way to get directions, search for local restaurants, look up the weather, or check college basketball scores.

We weren’t allowed – or able – to use our Google accounts to sign in to Glass and this limited the potential power of the device to match to personalized search history or preferences.

In addition, the ambient noise of the capacity crowd caused Glass’s voice recognition software problems.

“Pretty Intuitive”

“It seems like if everyone is using it in a room, you’ll have some troubles,” said Tiffany Wilson, a graduate student at Duke University.

“It was very comfortable,” said Wilson, who arrived at 9:30 for the event with Abbe LaBella, also a graduate student at Duke.

“It was a long wait,” added LaBella, “but not too long.” The wait was well worth the opportunity to test out the wearable device, and both women jumped quickly into using the voice and touch commands.

“It is pretty intuitive, and much clearer than I expected it to be.”

LaBella – who used the voice search feature to ask Glass how to say hello in German. A YouTube video came up without connectivity problems.

Both women seemed to think that they’d be able to wear the device and maintain everyday social activity. The turn-by-turn directions, said Wilson, were the best feature of the device.

“I’m not sure I’d wear Glass one hundred percent of the time,” said LaBella, “but if I was in a new city and walking around, that would be a great use.”

One potential problem, said Wilson, is that the touch commands would not work in a hot North Carolina summer. After waiting for forty-five minutes in 85-degree weather, Wilson said that her hands were a bit clammy and this affected her ability to use touch commands to navigate the device.

As of 4 PM, a Glass representative said that 1,380 people had received the opportunity to demonstrate the product. More than 3,500 people reserved entry into the event, said Scott Yates, a spokesperson for the communications firm that helped organize and run the event for Google.

Good News for Durham

The event ran until 6 PM, and the Glass team averaged more than 200 people an hour. When I left at 4 PM, the queue was just as long as when I arrived at 9:45 AM.

“To have the Glass tour kick off in Durham says a lot,” said said Adam Klein, chief strategist of the American Underground, who was on-site for the launch of Glass in Durham, “having a product that captures your imagination as much as Glass does, and to have that kick off in Durham is pretty special.

“It’s a technology that matches the story of Durham, in terms of turning a corner, breaking new ground and pushing the envelope.”

Klein added that the connection to the Glass team was separate from the recent Google for Entrepreneurs partnership announced by the American Underground on Sept. 25.