I recently had a chance to test drive a Google Glass device. Although it still feels like a prototype, it has the potential to be extremely useful in the workplace because of its ability to bring up information you need at the right moment with totally hands-free user experience.
Why do I consider it a prototype? In many ways it lacks attention to detail and ease of use (which Apple devices are famous for). It times out too quickly and has a tendency to freeze, which contributes to that "public beta" feeling.
However, despite these glitches, here are several examples of when its functionality could be very useful in the workplace.
Facial recognition technology included with Google can speed up corporate networking events, with real time notifications of the names, affiliations and stated interests of other members of the group. In the hotel and tourism industry Google Glass could enable staff to quickly recognise guests and call up key information about them. For example, it could help airline staff recognise VIPs and frequent fliers, ensuring they get easy access to the appropriate lounges. For guests it could provide personal guidance and information about attractions they might otherwise have missed.
While a contentious area, Google Glass could be very useful for law enforcement and security personnel, leveraging facial and picture recognition technologies to identify wanted people or to recognise car number plates.
As long as a colleague is comfortable being interviewed by someone wearing a device, an HR or legal assistant could warn you in real-time about potential issues that could arise from a conversation during an interview or with a client. I give a lot of speeches and presentations, and I would love to have an app on my Google Glass that works as a teleprompter; it could also be useful in meetings as a reminder of agendas and key points.
If there is one application that will get people to accept having a screen that's always visible, I believe it's navigation. Any unfamiliar public place, whether a city centre, shopping mall, stadium or airport can be daunting to navigate, and a Google Glass-type device could make getting around new areas quicker and easier.
Google Now is exceptionally useful on the Glass, and feels like the two are meant for each other. Google Now is centred on notifications, delivering relevant information you want just when you need it. I was recently travelling in Sweden and received a notification that my flight was delayed; with no need to rush I stopped for coffee and cake ("fika" in Swedish) with friends and family, preventing me from needless frustration for having to hang around the airport aimlessly.
By adding in Augmented Reality (AR), step-by-step navigation could completely change the way we interact with the world. Not only could it allow you to walk into a shop and ask the device to steer you to the items on your shopping list (or even direct you to another shop or website that has the same item cheaper), but in an airport for example, you could keep track of your flight's status, identify what's available, go there (coffee, bookshops, lounges and so on), and set an alert for when you need to leave in order to reach your gate on time.
In a business context, these features could be used to easily navigate large warehouses and find individual items, and promote just-in-time availability by allowing employees to prioritise which items they need to find first, or save time by picking up a second order that's nearby rather than making two trips. This is where the Augmented Reality capability of the camera and screen could become very significant.
Another potential use case would allow a worker in a warehouse to not only receive directions to the correct location, but would also enable the device to read the tags on each item and highlight the one that's needed. Likewise, at a trade show or conference, AR tags could attract visitors to stands by automatically displaying content that is not only eye-catching but personalised to the viewer based on their industry or a stated interest.
One of the biggest challenges many technicians face is encountering a problem that is either unexpected or just different to the many examples they've seen in the past. Why not use the device to call up more information or step-by-step instructions to deal with the unfamiliar part? Engineers could also use it to call a remote colleague experienced with the specific issue, as well as to access more documentation.
This could also be a significant application in healthcare, potentially reducing false positive and negative diagnoses of rare conditions or those that require specialist knowledge, thus reducing risk and stress to the patient. In surgery, the ability to display the patient's vital statistics in real time in the surgeon's vision could immediately alert them to problems as they develop. Earlier notifications, even if only a few deciseconds, could potentially save lives.
Google Glass has dozens of use cases that can significantly improve the efficiency of all types of workers, from hospitality to healthcare, and we are just beginning to see its full potential.