GoogleHammerSmallSo now that I’ve had a chance to see Google Glass, and gone out on a limb posting predictions about the future of wearable computing, which sector do I see wearable computing making a huge impact where it doesn’t now?

Construction workers. These are highly skilled and highly paid workers who need to keep both hands free and who need ready access to all sorts of tools – they need brain tools just as much and in my opinion, they aren’t getting them fast enough.

On my smartphone I have an app that lets me take measurements of distant buildings using my GPS location, accelerometers, video camera and the like. A construction worker can certainly bring an iPhone on site and use it for those purposes, but nobody would argue that an iPhone is a rugged piece of construction equipment.

Clearly Google Glass could help here, but it’s the functionality that’s needed and not the current form. Google Glass is also too delicate, and it’s not specialized enough for construction workers. It wouldn’t last a day in the field. The battery life alone make it a bit moot for a 12+ hour a day profession.

But construction workers are already required to wear a specific piece of functional clothing and that’s a helmet. The display HUD portion of GLASS is needed, but the helmet could provide a perfect platform for wireless antennas, solar power collectors, a micro weather station, and all kinds of other useful equipment.

But especially batteries. Enough batteries to make the smart helmet a very practical idea. Construction helmets need to meet objective standards in order to comply with regulations, and that means they need to weigh a certain amount no matter how you cut it. It’s also a substantial weight when compared to rechargeable batteries and with some clever material science you could probably engineer batteries into a construction helmet that met regulations without even increasing the current weights by much.

And safety glasses would make a dandy display for it. A laser sight onboard would allow the kind of measurement application I mentioned earlier to become very precise, and although it would not replace real surveyors with real surveying equipment, it would allow most workers to become information sources feeding ad-hoc measurement data into the backend scheduling and planning systems of the construction company running the project. Other devices like sonar range finders could be added to make them even more flexible.

And cost will certainly be a factor, but the benefits are real and the cost is incremental given that many of the components of an integrated wearable construction workers suit are already there for safety reasons and already have to meet standards that a cheap T-Shirt would never need to meet.

Video footage and photos, and even sound recordings could be quickly shared among the people who need them when they need them, and ad hoc meetings to deal with issues as they arise could be held via video conferencing to keep projects running smoothly.

The workers equipment could eventually be wired to provide any necessary status and operating information via the smart helmet. A torque wrench could not only display the torque reading being applied to a lug nut, the display could also show what the required torque was for the job, and maybe allow reporting and logging that the nut had been tightened for compliance purposes. An alert could tell the worker that the nut had been tightened a certain number of times and was due for replacement.

A network of Bluetooth Low Energy sensors around the construction site could track workers movements for safety and logistical purposes. Hands free multi band communication devices in the helmet could tie in with multiple communications and data systems on a job site. The helmet could send out a help squawk if it detects a blow to the head and the safety glasses could monitor vitals to detect if the worker is injured.

Different types of workers could accompany the smart helmet with different types of specialized uniforms. A welders specialty could include a smart welders visor attachment that automatically switched an LCD filter on in the visor when the welder started arc welding, and maybe a thermal imaging camera overlay so they could judge weld quality. A site foreman would have a focus on communication and logistics.

A crane operator could have an Oculus Rift type of visor that allowed them to rotate around an augmented view of the cranes payload synthesized from camera views and other data even if they couldn’t see where the payload was directly.

And with Bluetooth Low Energy beacons becoming a cheap and practical reality, your basic carpenter would finally be able to answer the age old question, where did I leave my @#%$%$ hammer!

meGLASS2So after my post about wearable computing the other day, a colleague from my time at QNX who had read it got in touch and asked if I wanted to try Google Glass myself. I was thrilled! Someone had actually read my post!

And yes.. it was a pretty cool chance to see Google Glass in person and try it out.

So I headed to Kanata to see my friend Bobby Chawla from RTeng.pro He’s a consultant by day and a tinkerer in his spare time like myself and has a pair on loan from a friend in the US. He gave me a tour of Google Glass as we talked about what we’ve each been doing since we were working on the pre-Blackberry QNX OS.

It turned out to be really easy to adapt to switching between focusing on what GLASS was displaying, and looking at Bobby as we talked. The voice activation feature for the menu was self-explanatory since every time Bobby told me “to activate the menu say OK GLASS” GLASS would hear him saying that and it would bring up the menu.

It aggressively turns off the display to save power, which does get in the way of exploring it, so I found myself having to do the wake up head gesture often, which is basically tossing your head back and then forward to level again – kind of like sneezing. I’m sure that will lead to a new kind of game similar to “Bluetooth or Crazy” – perhaps “Allergies or Glasshole”?

It could also cause issues where a waiter is asking if you want to try the raw monkey brains and you accidentally nod in agreement or bid on an expensive antique at an auction because you tried to access GLASS to find out more about it.

Between the voice activation, head gestures, and a touch/swipe sensitive frame, it’s pretty easy to activate and use the device but it certainly won’t be easy to hide the fact that you’re using GLASS from a mile away.

I didn’t have time to explore everything it had to offer in great detail, but what it has now is only the beginning. Clever folks like Bobby and others will come up with new apps for it and what I saw today is just a preview of what’s in store. In that sense, GLASS seems half empty at this point, until you realize that Google is handing it to developers and asking them to top it up with their own flavor of Glassware. If you have any ideas for something that would be a good application for it, I’m sure Bobby would love to hear from you.

I did get a chance to try out the GPS mapping feature, which I think relies on getting the data from his Android phone. We got in his car and he told me to ask it to find a Starbucks and away we went with GPS guidance and the usual turn by turn navigation.

The most surprising thing about them to me was that they don’t come with lenses. There is of course the projection screen, but that little block of glass is what gives them their name. They don’t project anything onto the lens of a pair of glasses from the block of glass, they project an image into the block of glass, and because it’s focused at infinity, it appears to float in the air – kind of/sort of/maybe.

So they work at the same time as a regular pair of glasses, more or less. They have a novel pair of nose grips to sit on your nose that’s mounted on legs that are long enough to allow it to peacefully, but uneasily, co-exist with a typical pair of regular glasses or sunglasses.

There are two cameras in it – one that faces forward, and another that looks at your eye for some reason – perhaps to send a retinal scan to the NSA! You never know these days. Actually, the sensor looking at your eye detects eye blinks to trigger taking a picture among other things.

So would I get a pair of these and wear them around all the time – like that fad with the people who used to wear Bluetooth phones in their ears at the grocery store? No.. I don’t think so, but for certain people in certain roles, I can see them being invaluable.

Bouncers or security at nightclubs and other events could wear them and take photos of trouble makers, and share that information with the other security people at the event immediately so they don’t get kicked out of one door and get back in another.

I’m sure we’ll see mall cops using them as a way to record things they might need to document later for legal purposes like vandalism and shoplifting. Insurance investigators and real estate folks will surely derive value from having a device that can document and record a walk through of a location without having to carry a camera and audio recorder.

Any occupation that uses a still or video camera to gather documentary evidence is worth a look as a candidate for using GLASS, although it would be better if longer sections of video could be recorded. In some cases a real camera will still be needed, but as the saying goes with smartphones – the best camera is the one you have with you at the time.

GLASS doesn’t really do anything that a smartphone can’t already do. The main value proposition GLASS offers is a hands free experience and instant access. Some of the functionality even still requires you to carry a phone.  It’s definitely going to make selfies easier to take.

The penalty is that you look a bit like an idiot at this point, until fashion steps in and makes less obtrusive and obvious items with similar functionality.

My main takeaway on the experience is that if you ever want to piss off a GLASS user…. wait until just after they sneeze, and then say “OK GLASS.. google yahoo bing”

 

[EDIT] – I’ve since learned that GLASS comes with lenses and my friends relative lust left them back in the US since he also wears glasses, and I also learned that you can get prescription lenses made for them or buy sunglass lenses.

Wearable computing as an idea has been around for ages. I was watching Toys with Robin Williams on Netflix or somewhere and it seemed to me that the concept really hasn’t moved forward since his musical suit, and I was reading an article recently that tried to argue that everything is there for it to catch on except for the fashion part, but that still didn’t really seem right to me either.

And then it kind of struck me. Wearable computing will never catch on with the masses. Nobody wants to ‘wear’ a computer, and there is already a schism developing between those who choose to do so (Glassholes) and people who resent and dislike where that branch of wearables leads.

But what people do want, and what will catch on, is pretty much the same technology but we won’t call it that.

I like to call it ‘functional clothing’ and we don’t need to wait to see if that will catch on because it’s already all around us and completely accepted in every culture. The functionality just doesn’t include any of the new fancy electronic or wireless stuff yet.

“Uniforms” are functional clothing, and we can already see that ‘wearable computing’ has already been incorporated into some very specialized uniforms – military and police being the prime example. But firemen, UPS delivery folks, meter readers and many other occupations already lug around lots of equipment that they need to do their jobs.

Imagine what McDonalds could do by wiring their kitchens with Bluetooth low energy beacons and their staff with smart wearables woven into the uniforms. Forget that clunky headset the drive thru attendant has to wear. Put google glass on the McDonalds manager and now no matter where they in the kitchen are the display screen showing the orders is there for them to see. As the development costs come down, big companies will see the value in building wearables into the uniforms of their front line staff.

For my part, I’m going to get ahead of the curve and start working on machine washable computing. I suspect dry cleaning is about to make a comeback.