Innovation Watch

Google Glass

Google Glass

Google has developed Glass, a wearable computer for your face that offers hands-free and voice-activated capabilities.  Part eyeglass frames and part computer, Glass provides a Heads Up Display that communicates with your mobile phone by way of a Bluetooth connection.  While there are multiple proponents and detractors of the product, it is undeniable that Google’s foray into the wearable space with Glass is innovative.

Glass consists of a small display with an integrated camera and touch pad, all mounted to a titanium frame that sports standard eyeglass nose pads and a lithium polymer battery.  The product comes in a variety of colors, and a relatively recent partnership with the manufacturer of Ray-Ban and Oakley eyewear has resulted in options for those who desire prescription lenses and different frames.

The display of the device rests just above the user’s right eye, generally out of view unless the user glances up.  The translucent display, which Google claims is “the equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away,” has a resolution of 640x360 pixels.  The display is generally inactive unless the user activates it by tilting their head up, tapping on the touchpad, or pressing the button on the upper portion of the device.

Glass runs the Android operating system on 1.2 Ghz Dual ARM processor with 16 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM.  It also has a 5-megapixel camera capable of recording 720p video, WiFi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth, a bone-conducting audio transducer and a 3-axis gyroscope, accelerometers, and magnetometer.

Glass runs applications that have been designed specifically for it, and are currently free for Glass users.  It is also possible to write custom applications for Glass, which some groups have begun to do within the healthcare field.

Two of the features that have piqued the interest of healthcare workers are the ability to stream live video from the perspective of the user (the camera is mounted on Glass, and so the viewer of a live stream gets a first-person perspective) and built-in voice recognition and transcription.  The applications can be controlled hands-free with voice commands, allowing for those in healthcare settings to utilize an application without needing to touch a physical device with their hands.

There are limitations with the current device that may pose as obstacles for those looking to incorporate Glass in their clinical workflows, especially in terms of imaging capacity and quality.  The version we tested (received in January 2014) has a camera that is typical of many Android cameras in terms of low-light capabilities, resolution, graininess and noise. 

The voice recognition, while useful, may not 100% accurate, especially in noisy environments.  That said, there have been significant improvements in the accuracy of voice-to-text transcription with Glass; however, it still may be necessary to verify that words and numbers have been accurately captured if using this function.  Case in point, TTAC’s tests in January and February resulted in a host of misspelled words when transcribing simple sentences, while a recent test in July of 2014 found that Glass was able to accurately identify “myocardial infarction,” “diabetic retinopathy,” “10mg Triamcinolone Hexacetonide Injectable Suspension.”

The display, which does indeed appear sufficiently large when viewing text and images, poses two interesting problems for the user.  First, there is the concern of resolution.  At 640x360 pixels, the images displayed are rather limited in resolution, with approximately 7 words fitting across the width of the screen.  Secondly, there is the problem of eye travel while reading.  The eye must scan across a fairly wide space to read each line of text, and long emails or medical notes can potentially cause eyestrain if read with this device.

The battery life is rather limited, especially when using processor-intensive functions that involve the camera and display.  Google advertises a full day of battery under moderate use, but actual experience has shown there to be many scenarios where Glass will not stay charged through a full 8-hour work day.

There is a learning curve that some physicians may object to, as navigating a menu by swiping up, down, and sideways along the Glass touchpad.  As with any technology, there will be a certain need to learn how best to utilize Glass.  Some physicians may balk at the idea of using the device with its novel interface, while others may find it enjoyable.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is tied to the novelty of Glass itself.  Those who have never seen Glass before are typically either incredibly curious or incredibly put off when they first encounter it.  Google’s goal of making an unobtrusive display that the wearer always has access to is, at present, not yet achieved given that most people are extremely distracted by the presence of Glass.

All concerns aside, Glass is a promising step in the “wearables” trend within the phone and computer markets.  While the general public my not yet be ready for widespread Glass use, interfaces like this will likely become increasingly prevalent.  Other manufacturers are producing similar products, and it is likely that variations of “smart glasses” will continue to make it to both consumer and industrial markets.  For those who are willing to pay for the experience and want to think through how one might use novel new technologies, Glass provides an interesting platform from which to work.

Product Specifications:

Fit

  • Adjustable nosepads and durable frame fits any face.
  • Extra nosepads in two sizes.

Display

High resolution display is the equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away.  640x360 pixels

Camera

  • Photos - 5 MP
  • Videos - 720p

Audio

  • Bone Conduction Transducer

Connectivity

  • Wi-Fi - 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth

Storage

Battery

One day of typical use. Some features, like video recording, are more battery intensive.

Charger

  • Included Micro USB cable and charger.

Mobile compatibility

The MyGlass companion app lets you set up contacts, Glassware, and other features. It's available for Android and iOS.

  • MyGlass for Android requires Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher.
  • MyGlass for iOS requires iOS 7 or later (iPhone 4 and above, iPad 2 and above with cellular connection).