By: Chris Cullmann
Your rep is in the lab because your customer is tweeting his 2000+ followers that the $300K sequencing system your company just installed is “a piece of garbage.”
“Poor resolution. Unreliable reproducibility. Low reads. I might as well do this manually” says your customer, the director of a regional sequencing center.
The rep picks up the vial of polymerase from the ice bucket long enough to tell her Google Glass (AKA “Glass”) to scan the lot-number bar code and check the corporate database for manufacturing date and for other complaints. Moments later, her Glass display indicates that 4 labs in the US, 3 in London, and 6 facilities in Italy reported similar issues. The rep verbally tells Glass to add her complaint to the database and to e-mail her manager and the director of quality control about the issue.
Your rep replaces the suspect lot with the one she brought to the lab and tells Glass to add to her calendar a follow-up visit to the same lab in 2 days to check on the performance of the new enzyme prep, and then moves on to her next account, but not before she tells Glass to e-mail her manager that she’s on the way.
Google Glass can accomplish some of these functions today. Now is the time to prepare for what Glass will accomplish tomorrow.
Google Glass: how it works
Google Glass is the most recognizable example of a new generation of connected devices—wearable computing. When paired with an Internet-connected smartphone, Glass provides users with information delivered via the Internet and stored in the paired phone. Glass also records images, video, and audio from the user’s perspective.
The concept of Glass is brilliantly simple—provide information to users in a discrete heads-up display in the wearer’s peripheral vision. The computing elements and display populate an eyeglass-like unit that the user wears like standard eyeglasses. Via audio prompts, users access information from search engines, personal files, calendar events, text messages, and beyond.
Much of this functionality is available on our smartphones right now. Why is this so exciting and such a noteworthy change?
Glass delivers on the promise of science fiction writers and IT department heads—a near-neural implant putting all your company’s (and the world’s) information available on command.
Today: a capabilities showcase
Out of the box, Glass provides seamless integration with Google’s own services. Text messages, search, calendar events, video-chat service “Hangouts,” and social sharing via Google+ all are integrated into Glass. It’s a demonstration of capabilities and integration above all else. But keep in mind that the product is still in beta testing and not commercially available.
If you’re searching for a broader context, the message from Google is clear: “Glass is coming.”
Tomorrow: a new interface for information management
At face value, the most powerful feature of Glass is the ability to share, on command, photos and video from the point-of-view camera. Imagery captured via Glass documents and details an activity or event, and does so in real time. Sharing experiences and creating a new genre of digital first-person media are key components of the Glass value proposition.
Sharing information in real time
From a commercial standpoint, the ability to simulcast makes it a tremendous utility for the scientific, healthcare, and education communities. What makes Glass so powerful? Unlike smartphones, wearable technology records, transmits, and receives audio and visual feedback non-disruptively.
Scientists can gain the insights of peers or groups of peers and spawn symposia of in-the-moment discourse. Clinical researchers can leverage expertise from the other side of the globe to diagnose and treat patients. Sales teams can get in-field feedback and tips from sales veterans or support teams to provide the expertise of an entire company—on the spot.
As described at the beginning of this article, the love would flow in both directions. Field information from the user’s point of view—images, video, and audio—could be captured, stored, and made available for distribution throughout the entire business enterprise.
Making Glass work in the business world
Glass has been a toe in the water for wearable computing, and it’s not difficult to envision how something so integrated can change how we apply information and technology to our daily business lives. Does Glass become a new interface for the infrastructure we already use?
Yes. Good or bad, enterprise will quickly adopt Glass or it’s next iteration as a way to provide workers with access to the spectrum of corporate information and wisdom, including but not limited to:
- Up-to-the-minute pricing information
- Product identification
- Customer information
Let’s take a closer look at customer information, but with a focus on context.
Glass can provide a discrete vehicle for information about our contacts. Who are they? Who are they connected to? Do they have decision-making ability? Are they eligible for discounts? What is the financial status of their account?
It doesn’t take long to see how tools like Glass can evolve business practices, but there are real-world issues that need to be addressed.
Etiquette and legality
Our social construct is changing quickly. Consider the issues raised by existing mobile technologies. Is it acceptable to take a phone call during a conversation or to rely on a tablet for note taking during meetings? The agreed-upon norms are changing daily and without much perspective on generational differences.
So what will be the social implications of Google Glass and subsequent wearable computers? How will the ability of Glass to capture information at any time be received? At meetings will Glass be as acceptable as open laptops and tablets, or will its use be restricted?
Confidential information and privacy. These are critical issues for academic and commercial research in the life sciences and for the public at large, so much so that Google is unsure what functionality to include in Glass and how much data should be made accessible to Google or other parties. For example, Google has developed facial recognition technology, but doesn’t include it with Glass (or its Android operating system). The technology would enable a Glass user to capture an image of any person at any time, identify them, and deliver as much information that is publicly available to the Glass user without the observed person’s knowledge.
Your customers might consider the above an invasion of their privacy.
But similar recognition technology applied to bar codes or other labels could also benefit life science researchers:
- By identifying hazardous materials and providing safe-handling instructions
- By recognizing equipment and providing instructions in the heads-up display
Many commercial life science businesses bar their employees and vendors from bringing image-capturing devices into their facilities. Despite the many benefits of data capture and recognition technologies, rules have to be developed that will impact Glass deployment and use.
Can Google Glass become a crystal ball?
Currently, most everything that Google Glass does is reactive. You command, Glass acts.
The vision for Glass is to predict your needs and provide the information—before it’s needed—which might be its greatest challenge and most significant accomplishment.
In this capacity, Glass would analyse your digital activity (e-mail, product ordering, journal-article downloads, visits to help forums such as Scientist Solutions and Biocompare) to search for patterns. Over time, such trends would comprise a large information fabric that would be mined for insights that inform accurate predictions.
Google Glass is a bellwether
Relevant information that is ubiquitous, accessible on demand, and rapidly shared is central to business success. Glass advances this cause by speeding the evolution of information management from desktop experience to the Internet.
Glass isn’t in final form, but a first glimpse. Like viewing the first television, it provides a view of something very important to your business world. Glass isn’t commercially available and registration for beta trials closed, but you can sign up for Glass updates.