Is Google Glass Radiation Cause for Concern?

While the much-talked about Google Glass is yet to be released, there is already debate as to whether the radiation it emits will pose a health hazard based on current research on cellular radiation. Here’s one interesting take on it…

Google’s first attempt at face-based computing, Project Glass, isn’t very useful unless it’s connected to a wireless network.

Without a connection to the internet, it can’t deliver search results, provide turn-by-turn directions, instantly share pictures with friends, or accomplish any of the other feats promised in Google’s video demonstration of Glass.

And yet Google Glass lacks the ability to connect to a cellular network on its own. It can only access one through a wireless Bluetooth connection to the wearer’s cell phone. The question is: why?

The answer to that question is almost certainly that cellular radios simply draw too much power. Getting decent battery life out of a cell-connected Google Glass would probably require that it become Google Safety Goggles, with a battery pack attached to the strap running around the back of the wearer’s head.

But there’s a second reason that Google and every other maker of forthcoming face-based systems probably shouldn’t even attempt to turn smart glasses into cell phones: They could become the definitive test of whether or not cell phones cause cancer, and not in a good way.

Public health professionals will tell you two things about this issue: First, whether or not cell phone use elevates levels of cancer is controversial—there have been multiple conflicting studies on the issue. So, second, we simply don’t know if the radio frequency radiation pouring out of our phones has any measurable effect on us. The World Health Organization classifies radio-frequency fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

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Just how much radiation does the Google Glass emit in terms of SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) and how does it compare with regular smartphones out there?

According to Tawkon, which specialises in tracking cell phone radiation, we won’t know how much cellular radiation Glass emits until we can test them in the wild in sufficiently large numbers – and that won’t happen until they go on sale.

We do know that the radiation levels will have to remain under strict FCC limits for the devices to go on sale.

Responding to a question on Quora, Tawkon says a Google Glass prototype submitted for FCC testing was found to have an SAR of 1.1W/Kg (Watts per Kilogram).

Radiation from smartphones is gauged in what’s called “Specific Absorption Rate,” which the measurement of the amount of power/Watts (in this case radiation) absorbed per mass of tissue/kilograms (the W/kg number above).

In the US devices can’t emit more than 1.6W/Kg, and in Europe the amount is slightly higher at 2W/Kg.

If we compare them to the latest smartphones it appears that Google Glass produces quite a large amount of radiation. We know that Apple’s iPhone emits 1.18W/Kg while Samsung’s Galaxy Note II throws out 0.171 W/Kg.

At 1.1W/KG the Google Glass prototype would appear to be quite high, especially for something you wear on, rather than hold to, your head.

Tawkon’s Mark Lerner puts it this way,

“For a comparison, the iPhone 5 has an SAR 1.18 W/Kg while the Samsung Galaxy S3 has an SAR of just 0.342 W/Kg. Based on this scale, you could say that Google Glass has a rather high radiation output, compared to other devices.”

But we don’t know how long, or how often, the device will run at this level. We also don’t know if this SAR value will be lowered on the production devices. Remember that the FCC documents report the value from the prototype, not the retail device.

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2 Responses to “Is Google Glass Radiation Cause for Concern?”

  1. Dean Rabbani says:

    valuable post and very well written. i like it.

  2. Marco says:

    This is a very interesting article.

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