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Google Glass Finds a Second Act at Work

Google Glass, no longer available to consumers, is gaining fans in the workplace.
July 24, 2015

Back in January, Google announced that it was shuttering the public “beta” program through which it sold Glass, its often-derided face-worn computer, to consumers. At the time, Google said it remained committed to building the wearable gadget, but would do so in secret.

Since then, Glass has largely faded from public view. Yet the companies authorized by Google to sell Glass and Glass-related services to businesses say Glass is quickly gaining ground as a tool for things like helping telecom workers debug equipment from afar or enabling a transcription service to help doctors save time they’d otherwise spend filling out patients’ charts.

It turns out it may be easier to figure out how to use Google’s smart glasses at work than in everyday life, and we may not be as sensitive about privacy concerns and style with technology we use on the job. And while Google has said little publicly about where Glass is going, some recent reports indicate the next version of Glass will focus on the enterprise. (Responding to a request for comment, the company said the team behind it is “heads down building the future of the product” and wouldn’t respond to rumors or speculation.)

For Brian Ballard, whose company APX Labs started making software for military smart glasses in 2010 and now has customers ranging from manufacturers to telecommunications companies with lots of employees working in the field, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Glass would take off on the enterprise side.

While he won’t say exactly how many Glass headsets the company’s clients are buying, Ballard says it’s growing from one quarter to the next. His customers include Boeing, which is using Glass to aid aircraft assembly. He says customers start with about 50 pairs of smart glasses and grow from there, and while his company supports several smart glasses including those made by Vuzix and Recon Instruments, Glass is the most popular.

Ballard says companies are starting to have a better idea of what Glass (and smart glasses in general) can do, and what their limitations and advantages can be in settings like factories or fixing equipment outdoors, where workers really need to have both hands free.

“In the enterprise, Glass is solving a problem, where in the consumer world it’s a luxury,” he says. “In the enterprise people have been trying to solve the hands-free workforce problem for 20 years.”

Glass is also finding a number of uses in the medical world. Augmedix, a San Francisco-based startup, uses Glass to let doctors stream visits with patients to remote health consultants who help fill out electronic medical records that doctors would otherwise spend up to a few hours a day working on. Doctors can also utter voice commands to get Augmedix’s software to show patient information like lab results or charts on Glass’s small head-up display.

Augmedix CEO and cofounder Ian Shakil says it has “hundreds” of doctors using smart glasses with its software, the “vast majority” of which are using Glass; they pay a monthly fee in the “low single-digit thousands” of dollars for the hardware, software, and technical support.

One of Augmedix’s customers, Albuquerque, New Mexico-based ABQ Health Partners, which has 15 doctors using Glass, says it saves doctors about three hours per day that they can use to see more patients and follow up on phone calls and lab results.

Yet there are still enormous hurdles for Glass and other smart glasses to overcome in order to truly help a range of workers, such as increasing the quality and size of the display that wearers see and extending the life span of the built-in battery so it can hold up over a full day of use for intensely draining activities like streaming video.

“I think the design we have today is commercially viable and can grow to be a big, big thing,” Shakil says. “But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t evolve.” 

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