McDonald's staff took offence to digital glasses, Toronto cyborg says

A Toronto computer engineering professor known for augmenting his body with various cyborg-like computing devices has been attracting media attention after he reported on his blog that staff at a McDonald's restaurant in Paris tried to pull his digital glasses off his head.

Steve Mann says employees at Paris fast-food outlet tried to remove augmented-reality eyewear

Steve Mann wears an EyeTap digital eye glass in 2003. The computer engineer and inventor has been wearing some form of digital imaging device on his person for decades. (Aaron Harris/Canadian Press)

A Toronto computer engineering professor known for augmenting his body with various cyborg-like computing devices has been attracting media attention after he reported on his blog that staff at a McDonald's restaurant in Paris tried to pull his digital glasses off his head.

Steve Mann wrote on his blog that while he and his family were eating at the restaurant last month during their summer vacation, an employee approached him to inquire about the glasses. 

The employee was initially satisfied with the doctor's note Mann showed him explaining why he wears the technology (Mann does not specify what the explanation is), but three other employees who approached him later did not accept the letter and one tried to remove the glasses from his head.

"He angrily grabbed my eyeglass and tried to pull it off my head," Mann wrote on his blog when describing the actions of one employee. "The eyeglass is permanently attached and does not come off my skull without special tools."

Mann does not elaborate on why the restaurant staff wanted him to remove the glasses, but he does point to a similar incident reported by CBS News in 2011 in which a travel agent from Boise, Idaho, became involved in a confrontation with an employee at a Paris McDonald's after she tried to take a photo of the restaurant menu.

McDonald's issued an updated statement Wednesday responding to Mann's allegations.

"McDonald's France was made aware of Dr. Mann's complaints on July 16 and immediately launched a thorough investigation," the statement said. "The McDonald's France team has contacted Dr. Mann and is awaiting further information from him.

"In addition, several staff members involved have been interviewed individually, and all independently and consistently expressed that their interaction with Dr. Mann was polite and did not involve a physical altercation. Our crew members and restaurant security staff have informed us that they did not damage any of Mr. Mann's personal possessions."

The company said it had received inquiries from customers about the incident and urged people "not to speculate or jump to conclusions before all the facts are known."

Eyepiece mediates, augments visual reality 

Mann was involved in a similar incident in 2002 when he was detained by security personnel at St. John's International Airport and reportedly had some of the implants and hardware he wears to enhance his memory and vision and otherwise monitor and enhance his experiences removed.

Vic Gundotra, senior vice-president of Google, wears a prototype of the Google Glass, the internet company's version of augmented-reality glasses, at a developers conference in San Francisco on June 28, 2012. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

The digital glasses Mann wears are based on a technology called EyeTap. They consist of an aluminum forehead strap and an eyepiece over the right eye that contains what Mann describes as a "computer-controlled laser light source that causes the eye itself to function as if it were both a camera and display."

The glasses resemble the recently launched Google Glass protoype and other head-mounted digital displays that have been attracting attention lately.

According to the EyeTap website, the technology that makes up the heart of the eyepiece "allows the computer to process and possibly alter what the user sees.

"That which the user looks at is processed by the EyeTap. This allows the EyeTap to, under computer control, augment, diminish, or otherwise alter a user's visual perception of their environment, which creates a computer-mediated reality."

Mann says he originally created digital eyeglasses to help people see better and to assist the visually impaired, but in recent years the technology and others like it have attracted more attention for their recreational applications among enthusiasts of wearable computing devices that are able to communicate in real time with the internet, allowing users to share their individual experiences of enhanced reality.

Glasses damaged

Mann claims that in the process of trying to remove his glasses, the McDonald's employees damaged the device and inadvertently caused the eyepiece to store still images of the incident that otherwise would not have been stored. Mann posted some of the images on his blog, with faces and names blotted out.

He says he is not seeking financial compensation from McDonald's but simply wants his glasses repaired, although he does caution that "as this technology becomes mainstream, McDonald's might need to get used to it" and urges the company to "support vision research."

Mann has been inventing and using various forms of wearable digital technology for decades and runs the EyeTap Personal Imaging Lab at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.

The lab conducts research into wearable computing and mediated reality, with an eye to developing marketable products.

Mann is also involved in research into wearable digital technology for visually impaired people and pioneered the concept of glogging, a kind of mobile blogging in which contributors stream videos and still images from their wearable cameras to a website and share them with other gloggers.

He designed the current version of his glasses together with designer Chris Aimone about 13 years ago, but has been wearing some form of computer-connected camera on his person since the 1970s.

"I believe that digital eye glass will ultimately replace glasses and will help many people see better and improve the quality of their lives through augmediated reality," Mann writes on his blog.


Kazi Stastna

Senior Producer

Kazi Stastna is a senior producer with She has worked as a features writer and copy editor with CBC's digital news team for 10 years. Prior to that, she was a reporter and editor in Montreal, Germany and the Czech Republic. She's currently writing from Washington, D.C.