Google Glass: Awesome Technology or is the Cart before the Horse

IMGP5117c

Somehow I received the opportunity to be an “Explorer” for Google Glass At first I was hesitant as I thought it was some scam, but after verifying with Google, I placed my order (yep, even Explorers have to shell out $1,500).  Several days later a box from Google was on my doorstep!   Being a techie, a surgeon and an educator, I was very excited to receive my Glasses.

The packaging (like the iPhone) is very trendy and intuitive and customized for the product.  Like most really high tech devices, if you need an instruction book you should not be purchasing the device, so the package was pretty much sans directionies.

The glasses have a built in speaker that is pretty tinny sounding but comes with a mono earbud for privacy.  Stereo ear buds are also available.  Other accessories include sunglass lenses (one set comes with the device for free) and a wide array of conventional and hipster eyeglass frames so you can wear your own prescription.  There is also a charger that comes with the glasses in a nifty flannel drawstring bag.  Not sure if the frame and nose pieces are titanium but they are very bendable and retain their shape.

The set up was pretty easy, a little online activation and an app download for iPhone or Android and iPad.  The online portal for Google Glass is Google Plus.  You don’t need any of the apps for the basic functions such as going online taking pictures and videos.  You do need the phone app for using the GPS and navigation options.

Let me now put forth a disclaimer that I am pretty sure that the following descriptions are accurate but won’t bet my life on it as some of my musings may be operator error or ignorance.

So, you put on these incredibly cool looking cyberglasses and you see a tiny monitor over your right eye.  The monitor is adjustable so that with both eyes open it looks like it is in the middle of your visual field.  How big does the display look?  Google says it is the same perspective as standing 8 feet away from 25 inch monitor.  Actually, it looks pretty big.  It is also reminiscent of what the Terminator saw when Arnold looked from his eye in the movie.  Young eyes should have no problem reading the “monitor” in front of their nose, but for those with corrective lenses or reading glasses it may take some experimenting.  The monitor sits above your line of vision, so you are not “looking through it”, but rather glancing up at it. Full eyeglass frames are available for the Glass frames and if you desire, you can fit your prescription or reading glasses under the Google Glass, but doing this is pretty cumbersome.  To wake up the monitor, you tilt your head up 30 degrees and it lights up.  The opening screen has the time of day in big numbers and as simple as it seems, it is actually pretty useful as you don’t have to look anywhere for the time.  Between cell phones and Goggle Glass, wrist watches may become obsolete.  There are various setup modes such as wink recognition that allows you to take a picture simply by winking you eye.  So, in the first 5 minutes of putting them on, I was taking pictures and videos and walking around the house saying “OK Glass”.  This is the prime command when the monitor becomes active and then allows you to make various choices.  Similar to the “enter” button on your keyboard.  Since walking around all day saying “OK Glass” is impractical and irritating to all those around you, the right temple of the glasses functions as a touchpad.  You can make choices and navigate menus by simply tapping or swiping back and forth or up and down on the frame.  Very stealthy!

OK, now you have this wonderful new toy, but what can you do with it?  It functions flawlessly as a wireless headset to answer phone calls, but you can do that with a $20 Bluetooth earbud.   Some of the menu choices include “listen to music” and “send email”.  Exciting………………until you discover that you cannot listen the music that is already on your phone or computer, but rather have to buy new music from Google Music!!!!!  Crushed me.  I don’t listen to music that much on my phone, but like to do it at the gym before work.  This will be a deal breaker for Google Glass if their final release does not change.  No one is going to buy 2 sets of songs.  The other bummer was the fact that you can’t access your contacts on your phone if you want to send a picture, video or other data.  You have to go to Google Plus and enter up to 10 favorite contacts.  That also sucks as who needs 2 address books?  It is obvious that Google wants to rule the Glass world and forces you through their portal, but this is sort of like saying that the iPhone will only call other iPhones.  I can’t see any way that this device will prosper without a more ecumenical arrangement. The type of people that will use such a device is not keen on monopolies.  With the contacts you enter, it is easy to take pictures and videos to your contacts without using your hands.  This will be important for future uses.

So what can it do?  Remember, this is basically an extension of your cell phone; think of it as if your phone is dangling in front of your nose.  The glasses need an internet connection or a mobile hot spot on your phone in order to do anything other than take photos or video.  The GPS function “OK Glass, get directions to” is easy to use but you have to have a mobile hotspot active on your phone and access via Bluetooth.  So, the GPS and navigation that your phone is displaying is also shown on your Glass monitor.  The monitor sits above your sight of vision, so you basically glance upward to view it.  This actually makes it safer to drive with this device than glancing over at the dashboard to see the GPS.  It is literally sitting right under your nose.  I made a pretty cool video from my 1967 XKE Jaguar going through the gears on a curvy road and never had to take my hands of the wheel.  The video below is lower resolution due to the Youtube conversion, and is more impressive at the true hi def playback.

There are available apps called Glassware and I have not explored all of them.  I am not a gamer, but there is an app for various games like Tennis and Clay Shoot.  You move your head to hit targets, etc.  If you ever watched Maverick (Tom Crews) in Top Gun lining up the enemy in his lens, you get the idea.  The experience is similar to using an Xbox but hands free.   If you are a golfer there is a GPS app that shows pin distances.  There are CNN apps that give breaking news, recipe apps, fitness apps, Jewish prayer apps, as well as New York Times, weather, Twitter, YouTube and Gmail apps.  There are a bunch I just have not had time to look at yet. There is a translation app that looks pretty useful and through a Google interface translates your voice.  Stating the name of an airline and flight number brings up a screen detailing flight information.  Also, when you Google an item, you have the option to have the print read by computer voice.  This is very handy when you find it difficult tread the tiny screen.

This device will function much like a Go Pro wearable action camera, but is smaller and lighter, but also not waterproof, etc.  The possibilities are limitless of such compact wearable video.  It is my understanding that some Glass wearers have been accosted in bars for wearing their technology.  Invasion of privacy, get ready be mainstream.

Of course, when I got to work, the first thing I wanted to do was to record some cosmetic facial surgery.  Being a lifetime teacher and student, recording surgery is advantageous for learning, teaching and patient education.  The video (and pictures) are 720p HD and respectable.  Again, the camera lens is not necessarily looking where the wearer is looking, so this takes some adjustment (before you pick up the scalpel J).  The default video is only 10 seconds, but by a simple button push, you can record as long as the batteries last.  I recorded (with patient permission) some cosmetic eyelid surgery, laser surgery and part of a facelift.

IMGP5130

If I wanted to and the patient consented, I could share this video, in real time, with the patient or students via Google Hangout which is part of Google Plus or download to my computer or devices.  I see huge and exciting possibilities for telemedicine and surgery with such a device that may be game changing and lifesaving.  It could guide surgeons through anatomy or document and diagnose lesions.  With the live view via Google Hangout, your friends, patients, students, etc. can watch you ski, skydive, operate or travel in real time.  This will open up some interesting possibilities, good and bad.  I will use these for the fall archery season.

One thing that comes to mind is that this is an expensive toy that is waiting for an application.  I remember people saying the same thing about the iPad.  They were saying “Great technology, now what will you use it for”.  Eat those words baby, the iPad has been phenomenal.  I think the same thing will happen with Google Glass.  Although there are a number of Glass Apps, there are third party apps starting to spring up and like the iPhone, I am sure this will replicate exponentially in the near future.

The real advance and advantage of this device is that you wear it and go about your life. It is like being able to use all the functions of your cell phone hands free.  I am sure that like the old brick cell phones, this technology will probably fit into a contact lens in a decade.  This is intuitive technology and I truly feel that this framework will permeate our daily lives in innumerable ways.  Our future phone won’t be a phone at all, but probably something wearable and with smart vision technology.  Having 2 severely handicapped children that can’t walk or talk, I also wonder how this may assist people with disabilities.  Since you can already take a picture with a wink, you can and will probably be able to initiate commands and communications on a simple device like this.  This technology is available now, but not on such a small platform.

Joe Niamtu, III DMD

Cosmetic Facial Surgery

Richmond, Virginia

www.lovethatface.com