A doctor using Google Glass.
Google shifted their attention away from consumer-oriented Google Glass applications when they abandoned their Explorer program in 2015. Instead, they focused on an Enterprise version of Glassdesigned for use in business, industry and health care environments where people need access to information when their hands are busy. While the Enterprise program has met with great success, its achievements thus far represent only the tip of the iceberg of what Google’s new approach to Glass might accomplish. Depending on what Google decides to do next, Glass could be the killer app that raises augmented reality (AR) from a “Whoa! That’s so cool!” tech demo to a technology that plays an essential role in everyday living.
Glass uses AR to display instructions in the field of vision of a worker carrying out a complex task. Google points to airplane maintenance and repair as an example. Mechanics working on jet engines frequently move back and forth between the engine and a set of manuals that detail how to take engines apart, service and repair them, and put them back together. Google loaded the manuals into Glass which allows the workers to view them while they are working on the engine. No more back and forth. The information you need to do the job is in front of your eyes while your hands are busy doing the job.
The Enterprise version of Google Glass
Think of all the ways this could be useful in daily life. Cooking is one of the most obvious examples. Kitchen work can be messy and accessing recipes located in traditional cookbooks or digital platforms when your hands are wet or dirty isn’t good. Viewing the recipe with Glass while you cook solves this problem.
Cooking is not the only instruction-driven activity that could benefit from Glass. Think of the times you’ve been frustrated or annoyed by the need to go back and forth between what you were doing and the information you needed to do it. Putting something together from an instruction sheet, walking through a series of steps to fix a problem, and following a procedure that's laid out in an inconvenient place would all benefit if Glass held the information you needed in front of your eyes.
List-based activities could also benefit from Google’s Enterprise approach to Glass. Grocery shopping with your list constantly in your field of view is a small thing but a nice convenience. Other examples include checklists and to-do lists of all kinds. As the items on a list are checked off, they can be removed from the display because Glass accepts voice input. Your list gets smaller as you accomplish your goals.
Android Auto augmented with the soon-to-be-released Waze.
Driving is another everyday activity would benefit from Glass. Navigation systems in apps like Google Maps or manufacturer-installed infotainment systems are common but they demand that you take your eyes and attention off the road. Glass could solve this problem. Google Maps and Android Auto are great but they would be a lot better if the visual display was in your field of vision when you were looking through the windshield.
Driving isn’t the only navigation application that would benefit from Glass. How many times have you walked into a big-box retail outlet like Home Depot and asked the first guy you could corral “Where’s the... .?” Ask Glass and a route to your target could be laid down before your eyes. The same system would work in any large building such as a museum, hospital or office building where you are searching for a particular location.
Glass can’t do any of these things all by itself. It needs cooperation from whoever wrote the instructions, concocted the recipes, or is responsible for the interior organization of the building. Google worked with their partners to create custom-designed information displays for the Enterprise version of Glass. It would need to do the same for a consumer version. This might be slow going at first, but if a consumer version of Glass caught on, companies would be eager to jump onboard.
At present, a version of Glass that gives consumers hands-free visual access to instructions, lists and navigation information is a pie-in-the-sky dream. But it’s a dream Google could turn into a reality. Whether it decides to do so remains to be seen.