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Google to invite 8,000 US residents to try out Internet-connected glasses

Sergey sports Google Glass.jpg

Google co-founder Sergey Brin demonstrating Google's new Glass -- wearable internet glasses -- at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco in 2012.AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Google has picked 8,000 people in the U.S. who will have a chance to wear the company's new Internet-connected glasses, which are being described as the next breakthrough in mobile computing.

Google Inc. began notifying contest winners Tuesday.

The winners will have to pay $1,500 apiece if they want a test version of the product, called "Google Glass." They also will have to travel to New York, Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay area to pick up the device, which isn't expected to be available on the mass market until late this year or early next year.

The excitement stems from the belief that Google Glass is at the forefront of a new wave of technology known as "wearable computing." Google, Apple Inc. and several other companies also are working on Internet-connected wristwatches, according to published reports that have cited anonymous people familiar with the projects.

Google Glass is supposed to perform many of the same tasks as smartphones, except the glasses respond to voice commands instead of fingers touching a display screen. The glasses are equipped with a hidden camera and tiny display screen attached to a rim above the right eye.

The engineers who have been building Google Glass tout the technology as a way to keep people connected to their email, online social networks and other crucial information without having to frequently gaze down at the small screen on a smartphone. The hidden camera is designed to make it easy for people to take hands-free photos or video of whatever they are doing.

Privacy watchdogs, though, are already worried that Google Glass will make it even more difficult for people to know when they are on camera.

One contest winner promised to take Google Glass to Veteran Administration hospitals so soldiers who fought in World War II can see their memorials before they die. Another plans to wear Google Glass during a trip to Japan so she can take video and pictures that she can share with her grandmother, who lives in the U.S. but would like to see her native country again. A zookeeper plans to use Google Glass to show what it's like to feed penguins, and another contest winner wants to use the technology to provide maps that will help firefighters in emergencies.

Google said the test, or "Explorer," version of Glass will help its engineers get a better understanding of how the technology might be used and make any necessary adjustments before the device hits the mass market.

The company sold an unspecified number of "Explorer" models to computer programmers last year. The finished product is expected to cost from $700 to $1,500.