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The thing about new technologies is that we can’t really be sure how people will use them until they actually, well, get to use them. Take the iPad for instance. When Steve Jobs unveiled it in 2010, it was sold as a really great way of browsing the kind of content we’d ordinarily view on a laptop or desktop. Public reaction — excluding what was then a much smaller contingent of iFans — was generally something along the lines of “oh look, a giant, pointless iPhone”. It was only once the iPad started landing in the hands of consumers that we realised how much potential it actually had.
Doctors realised they could get patient data onto and from their central records on the fly and archaeologists meanwhile could take the iPad into awkward spaces where they wouldn’t have been able to take a laptop for instance. More recently, pilots have been able to ditch their bulky flight manuals for something much lighter.
Until very recently, we were in the same place with Google Glass. All we really knew when Glass first started emerging was that you could skydive with it and that you could use it for shooting photo and video.
As Google’s expanded its Explorer programme and put the wearable device into an increasing number of hands, we’ve seen people using Glass in a variety of unexpected ways.
1. Telling stories that don’t usually get told
One of the best things about Glass is that it, literally, allows you to tell your story from your own point of view. The unfortunate thing is that we’re not exactly short of stories from the kind of people who first got their hands on the device: white, wealthy and (if this Tumblr is to believed) male.
That’s what makes Google Glass Diaries, a project by filmmaker Josh Kim, so appealing.
The first person video diary project aims to tell the stories of people whose stories don’t usually get told, ranging from a Betel Nut vendor in Myanmar to a fortune-teller in Thailand. Most of the people involved in the videos aren’t really aware of what Glass is and how excited people in more developed countries are about it.
Most instead view it as just another camera, albeit one that doesn’t require giving up the use of their hands.
“[With Glass,] we can see more intimate moments and also the ones that we kind of miss already, because a smartphone takes too long to pull out,” says Kim. “And when you have a big bulky camera, the most funny things or the most interesting things usually happen when you put the camera down.”
Although not based in South East Asia, Memeburn reader Ruth Papazian got in touch to let us know about her efforts to tell the stories of the “deli workers, cheese makers, bread bakers, who have made Morris Park in The Bronx a foodie haven”.
It’s tempting to imagine that Glass’s use in journalism would start and end at covert recordings in investigative pieces. Except that’s a little bit silly. Glass might not be massive, but when you’re face to face with someone, it’s hardly subtle now is it?
That’s why it’s encouraging that the University of Southern California is developing a course in using the device in journalism. “The class will consist of teams (Journalist, Designer, Developer) working together to research and develop different types of news apps designed specifically for the Glass platform,” writes digital journalism lecturer Robert Hernandez, who will be developing the course.
3. Doctors are using Glass in the operating theater
Despite the constant advancements made in the field of surgery, operating theaters can still be pretty tense places. Surgeons need to walk the tightrope between working methodically and getting their patients into recovery as fast as possible.
As the International Business Times reports, a group of surgeons are testing Glass to see if it can streamline the entire experience.
It’s easy to think of uses for Glass in surgery. Ordinarily, if a surgeon needed information they might have to step out of the operating room, using up valuable time — scrubbing down, looking up the information, and scrubbing up again — but with Glass they’d be able to look up the information on the fly.
Another potential use for Glass being explored by surgeons is in the field of education. Again, it’s easy to see why: with Glass, you get to experience surgery from the point of view of the surgeon without any interruption.
“By just winking, the Glass captures an image of whatever you’re looking at during surgery,” said University of Arizona Medical Center surgeon Jason Wild in an interview with Tucson television station KVOA. “We’ve tried using other kinds of cameras, but they require touch control which can be a contamination risk. Glass allows us to capture angles otherwise impossible, to help educate our residents.”
4. Making driving safer
There are plenty of people trying looking for ways to make Google Glass part of your everyday driving experience, from car makers like Tesla and Hyundai to audio and infotainment companies like Harman International.
Perhaps the most promising Glass app we’ve seen to date, however, comes from a much smaller player and is called DriveSafe. The app uses Glass to sense if you’re about to fall asleep at the wheel and will give you an audio alert if you are. From there, it will ask if you want to be directed to the nearest rest stop.
If you choose to do so, a map will appear on your Glass screen and, theoretically, you should be taken somewhere safe where you can refresh yourself.
5. Fighting crime
This one might be a little bit contentious among privacy advocates. The New York Police Department is testing Google Glass as a crime-fighting tool.
Using the right kind of facial recognition technology, the department hopes that it will be able to bring up a suspect’s police record within seconds of them coming into a police officer’s vision. It’s understandable that some might be uncomfortable with that, but there will definitely be positive side effects. It could, for instance, help bring an end to the city’s controversial “Stop and Frisk” practices, which have raised concerns around racial profiling and illegal stops.
The department also suggests that it could be used to record interactions between police and suspects as well as ordinary members of the public.
6. Fighting fires
What makes firefighter Patrick Jackson’s efforts with Glass so cool is that he isn’t undertaking them under the direction of a big organisation or in the pursuit of money. Instead, he’s most concerned with making life better for his colleagues.
Jackson has already developed software that allows emergency calls to be directed to the wearable hardware, and inform responders’ direction. Earlier this year, he was also working on apps capable of pulling up floor plans from burning buildings and vehicle diagrams for in-car rescues.
According to CNN, the video Jackson can provide the moment a fire crew arrives at a scene is also crucial for investigations down the line.
Margaret Powers is a junior school teacher in the US who was intrigued by Glass from the moment it came out. When the internet giant announced its explorer programme, she jumped at the opportunity.
As Pandodaily writes, she started a blog called 365 Days of Glass where she posted every piece of news relating to Glass. Before she received the device, Jackosn also solicited advice and recommendations on the technology.
Even with the limited number of apps available, Jackson found a number of ways to use Glass in the classroom, including handing over the device to the kids. Perhaps the most valuable use she found for it though was recording lessons and playing them back for analysis.
She thinks that’s just the beginning of how we might use Glass in the classroom though. “I wonder what it would be like for students to recreate a day in the life of a famous person and literally show how it could have looked and felt to walk in their footsteps,” Powers writes on her blog.