An Eye Toward the Future

An Eye Toward the Future

Michael Feliciano '14Heads may turn now and people may stare, but it might not be long before we all walk around looking like Michael Feliciano ’14.

As one of the privileged few to use the Google Glass headset – a next-generation, wearable computer that merges one’s real and digital worlds into something called augmented reality – before it was officially released in April, Feliciano stood out on his walks to class. And, as other people stopped dead in their tracks to watch him, he managed to read and reply to emails, watch breaking news videos on CNN and take and instantly upload photos to Facebook.

All this is done by simply voicing commands to the Glass, which resembles the frame of a pair of sunglasses with a miniature display – or screen, of sorts – above one eye.

Feliciano was able to buy his Google Glass thanks to the $10,000 he raised through the crowdfunding site Upstart, with half that support coming through an award from Innovation Endeavors, a venture fund cofounded by Google chairman Eric Schmidt. Feliciano also used this money to invest in a full virtual reality headset made by Oculus VR, a firm that– according to a March announcement– Facebook is acquiring for $2 billion.

Feliciano believes these new pieces of hardware herald a new digital era – and, as he stated in his investment pitch for Upstart, he is taking a gap year after graduation to experiment with these new devices and develop applications for augmented and virtual reality systems.

He may not be immediately entering the workforce, but Feliciano is hardly one to take time off. In college, while his fellow students were going for morning runs or sleeping in, Feliciano was waking up to solve math problems, training for problem-solving competitions maintained by the online programming community CodeChef. He is quite proud of his ability to pit his intellect against other very, very bright people all over the world, earning him Top 30 national rankings in CodeChef’s short- and long-problem–solving divisions. No matter how stiff the competition, though, Feliciano remains motivated to learn more and share his passion with fellow students and professors.

“This is the single greatest thing I learned in college: the ability to solve problems,” says Feliciano. “It is generalizable. It really lends itself to creative thinking.”

His enthusiasm for problem solving and his own software projects haven’t gone unnoticed.

“Every time I see him, he’s expanded his ambitions to a new hardware platform,” says assistant professor of mathematics Andrew Przeworski. “He’s been participating in programming competitions, and, through those competitions, he’s come to realize how important math is in programming. It’s always encouraging when a student develops an appreciation for math, considering that most students do everything they can to avoid math.”

Since graduation, Feliciano has had the freedom to devote himself nearly full time to the exploration of augmented and virtual realities and the development of applications that can one day be used by the general public. He spends a portion of his time, too, developing health care applications with his father, a geriatrician.

Feliciano is sure that his efforts will be useful in emerging fields down the road. But even if things do not pan out exactly as planned, the worst case would be he spends a year learning on his own and experimenting. That’s a risk he’s more than willing to take.

“The cool thing about being on the cutting edge: You’re often faced with problems few, if anybody, have ever faced before,” says Feliciano, sitting in the Cistern Yard and donning his Google Glass headset. “You’re really in a position to define how things progress.”

And, if things keep progressing the way they are, Feliciano might just be the very image of our future.