When Google Glass went on sale for the first time to early adopters in the UK for around £1000 last month, a big question mark still hung over its mass market appeal. Though Google hasn’t released any initial sales figures yet and it’s still technically in beta, it’s fair to say that it has yet to win over the hearts and minds of the average Brit in the street to a product that many have labelled as conspicuous, geeky, and worst of all, intrusive.
But one area where Google Glass is making tracks beyond just its novelty value is in hands-on industries such as construction, manufacturing, energy, healthcare and law enforcement. For the kinds of situations where workers in dirty, dangerous environments need constant access to data, maps and schematics, combining augmented reality and wearable technologies is a hugely practical idea.
Software startup Wearble Intelligence, for instance, is working with companies such as global gas giant Schlumberger piloting the use of Google Glass for engineers out in the field working on extremely complicated workflows.
The ability to have hands-free access to complex procedural checklists, context-aware schematics and live mentoring while out fixing gas pipelines is driving a quiet revolution in efficiency for Sclumberger and others in similar industries- and they certainly don’t care if the glasses make them look geeky.
Other makers of augmented reality smart glasses such as Epson have seen less of the media spotlight than Google, but have driven after the enterprise audience with a bit more focus.
The Moverio BT-200 may be one to watch out for in the industry space in the years to come – overlooking the clunky name, it costs half as much as the Glass, it features 360-degree panoramic views, and Epson is working with developers to create a greater variety of business-focused on-the-job apps for things like augmented reality training and secure integration with IT infrastructure.
The glasses are packed with sensing technology, including a front-facing camera, gyroscope, GPS system, compass, and accelerometer, allowing the device to accurately understand a user’s movements and the world around them.
One early customer is budget airline EasyJet, who is experimenting with the Moverio BT-200 to relay contextual information to and from its pilots and field engineers and its Operations Control Centre in real time, to streamline servicing and repairs and eliminate delays.
Ian Davies, head of engineering and maintenance at EasyJet, explains how it’s all going to work.
‘When things do go wrong we need to get them fixed as quick as we can, and we think using these tools we can easily halve the time to deal with a defect,’ says Davies. ‘I have about fifty engineers monitoring everything going on the aircraft every day but the most modern tool we’ve got to do that is a telephone and it comes down to snapshots and bits of conversations. So effectively we are solving problems semi-blind. We needed to be able to get eyes on the problem.’