CXO

The business value of Google Glass and wearable computing

Wearable computing is an emerging technology that's affecting both the consumer and enterprise space.

Wearable computing is an emerging technology that's affecting both the consumer and enterprise space. Long the domain of science fiction, wearable devices are slowly reaching the mass market, with the most recent high-profile example coming in the form of Google Glass, a pair of glasses augmented with a small display and what amounts to a tiny computer complete with wireless networking and GPS functionality. While Glass seems the most futuristic, there is also a rapidly expanding segment of wearable computing that embeds small sensors on one's person or immediate environment.

The connected sensor revolution

As I write this, a Fitbit fitness device sits in my pocket. About the size of a USB memory stick, the device uses a tiny gyroscope and altimeter to track how many steps I take and stairs I climb during the day. While these functions are available in a common pedometer, the power of the Fitbit is that it also includes low-power Bluetooth networking and quietly exchanges data with my iPhone on a regular basis. I can view calorie consumption, set goals, and share achievements with friends, and also adjust settings that are then transmitted to the device.

The Fitbit is representative of the emerging "connected sensor" in that it's small, cheap, and serves as a data collection point that leverages the power of a larger network to perform more complex analysis and reporting. In the enterprise space, several companies are embedding Fitbit-like sensors into common workplace objects. A small sensor in an office chair can report its occupancy rate, allowing reporting on how meeting space is used. While seemingly rudimentary, this type of data could drive a decision to split large conference rooms into smaller spaces or guide planning on a new office space. In more advanced cases, RTLS (Real-Time Location Systems) use GPS and local networks to plot the location of the object to which they are tagged. This could allow hospitals to track nurse rounds, or a warehouse to track how forklifts move through the building, generating opportunities for improved efficiency.

Whether these devices use a mobile phone or communicate directly via WiFi, nearly ubiquitous wireless networks make data gathering from a connected sensor possible, allowing for active reporting from the sensor rather than waiting for a synchronization process or for a sensor to pass a data collection point. Real-time, bi-directional sensor capabilities are finally approaching commodity price points.

The wearable computer

As opposed to tiny sensors that remain largely out of view, the more obvious result of wearable computing is what amounts to tiny mobile computers with novel display technologies and user interfaces. At its core, Google Glass is nothing more than a low-end mobile phone in terms of processing, memory, and connectivity capabilities. The device leverages a mobile phone or WiFi network for connectivity and from a specifications standpoint is largely unimpressive. The obvious revolution with Glass is putting a display directly in the user's field of view and creating a user interface based on voice, gestures, and taps of the glasses' frame.

The other area of wearable computing that is receiving a great deal of attention is the lowly wristwatch. After the success of the Pebble Smartwatch, a device that largely acts as a secondary display for a mobile phone, heavyweights like Apple, Sony, and Samsung are rumored to have watch-sized devices in the works. In the past I've mentioned my Motorola MOTOACTV fitness watch, which is essentially an Android-powered computer with WiFi, GPS, and touch-sensitive display in a watch-sized device. While the watch interface is a bit more traditional than something like Glass, with the right applications and connectivity it could generate revolutionary functionality.

Preparing the enterprise for wearable computing

Outside the direct applications of connected sensors, company-issued Google Glass or smart watches are likely several years off. However, there are areas in which your enterprise can prepare immediately for wearable computing. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the volume of data these devices will produce. IT has a tradition of collecting data first and determining their use second, resulting in unwieldy data hoards that produce little value. Additionally, each of these devices represents a potential node on your network that may require monitoring and management.

Like tablets and smartphones, perhaps the easiest way to get your feet wet with wearable computing is to identify tech-savvy employees who are already using devices like the Pebble Smartwatch or a connected sensor-type device, and provide company-sanctioned time to experiment with the devices and report their findings. Not only will this bring your leadership team up to speed on this emerging sector, but it will also provide some free staff development. While wearable computers are only now leaving the domain of science fiction, and it will likely be several years before the majority of your staff are sporting something like Google Glass, this is a technology worth watching.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

12 comments
rexrich2k
rexrich2k

Most of us would maybe enjoy taking pictures on the fly or getting some ones name recorded so we can call them by it when we see them next. On the other hand though business, lawyers and government would get the most out of this tech. And they want you to have it. Tracking Us is the future..

rdalenberg
rdalenberg

Many people forget the needs for computing devices with hands free capability in businesses and departments such as Facility maintenance, Engineering tech services, Emergency services, Health services, and Security services. Wearable smart systems can greatly enhance productivity, safety, and performance. Increasing real time Hands Free access to group communications, documents, drawings, and other data can readically improve how these businesses and departments operate. Jobs that REQUIRE hands holding physical tools can definiitelly bennifit from proper use of wearable systems.

jpicazzo
jpicazzo

While I was attending my Masters at Carnegie Mellon in 1998, the Human-Computer Interaction lab was already looking into potential application of similar devices. Of course back then the monitor for the glasses was a 1-inch cube that had to be connected to a PC attached to someone's belt. But there was a specific purpose for this: Maintenance and inspection applications that required the operator to have both hands free. Imagine being stuck underneath an armored vehicle or jet fighter trying to find a page in the reference manual while holding a tool or a part that you are repairing. Talk to the computer, voila, you got the page you are looking for. Or a task that is being performed collaborateviley with another person out of sight - Let's say trying to fit a large piece that requires people to be in teh other end and invisible - You can also see their point of view next to what you see. The hype of using it for day to day applications is, right now, hardly worth the business value. There are more "serious" applications worth the money.

seven2seven
seven2seven

" tracking technology for forklifts in a warehouse is well established." - maybe to have an employee's perspective in case of an accident or way to evaluate employee's ability to point out safety issues or test out on a 'crash course'...turn them into 'safety glasses'....etc. But we had this technology for years they are just trying to convince that we 'need it'...like one "needs" a facebook. I agree, this item is more 'addsense' and 'potential' powered.

opcom
opcom

An individual's dataset made from constant logging of every bodily movement by a 'web' of 'things' likely won't be available to the employee or citizen themselves, but will be available via the terms of service for private and government information harvesters By careful application of algorithms, it is likely that internal bodily functions can be monitored and events observed by gyros and accelerometers in a worn item. All these things that are there to help us need to have safeguards in them to make sure the wearer/owner is always the master of the information. As far as Google Glass, I tried one on for a few seconds. It is too narrow, not adjustable, useless if you wear glasses (some people prefer spectacles over contacts or laser surgery). The product really needs a lot of work (not 3/4 baked, only half-baked) and would be far better if it could be ordered and linked to a visit with your friendly optometrist/opthamologist, who would measure the eyes individually and also measure the head and eye spacing/position to make sure things fit as naturally as possible. The Google Glass should be redesigned with a range of about 20 frame sizes and made in such a way that the electronics can be fit into any of the frames. This is a function and fitment issue sorely lacking in every set of heads up glasses I have ever seen, yet it is already supremely accomplished in every optometrist office. there is: the width from temple to temple (head width), horizontal spacing of the eyes, and vertical spacing of the eyes in relation to how the frame sits on the head.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

The Google Glass trial has never been about that product in particular. The reviews and specifications make it pretty clear that Google developed a 3/4-baked product, one that was going to be just good enough to convince a certain subset of users (basically, tech journalists/bloggers, once you realize why Google took "applications" to own) that this could be the Next Big Thing. But what was Google really trying to do? This was a "test the waters" product. Google wanted to see if the world really wanted a wearable, "heads up" consumer computer. They wanted to know if we really were dissatisfied enough with smartphones or if people really could make usage cases for a Glass-type of product. And by charging the lucky selected buyers $1500 each, Google probably guaranteed that they would get unbiased feedback because the devices weren't worth that much money. So watch what Google does next. This company is daring us to put our money where our mouths are (remember, they're throwing a lot of resources behind self-driving cars), and if Project Glass gets shelved, I wouldn't expect to see anyone else trying to beat it anytime soon.

Michael99
Michael99

You joking when you write, "I can view calorie consumption, set goals, and share achievements with friends." You have friends that care about thus? Really! Really!

Slartibartfass
Slartibartfass

... and similar devices are threatening privacy, which I consider one of the highest valued goods, to an unseen extend. There's a good reason for being informed of every installed camera in shops or other public places. I have absolutely no intention to end up being a film star on YouTube without even knowing it.

Henry 3 Dogg
Henry 3 Dogg

I've been wearing my smartphone on my belt for years. I find that both efficient and ergonomic. I remove it to use it of course. Whereas I consider Google glass to be a foolishly laughable gimmick. Totally unwearable by anyone over 17 and unaffordable by almost everyone under 18, especially as it will be broken in 10 minutes in the hands of the only consumer group that would consider using it. If Google really felt that they had a game changer then they would have kept it under their hat until they were ready to ship it in volume. Instead they chose to give it maximum publicity long before they were ready to even expose it to developers. If there was any chance that anyone would choose to compete with it, then this would have helped them greatly. Google chose to play the maximum PR route because they know that this "product" at this time has no commercial value. Still, on slow news days I suppose the press must try to invent a story where it can.

TheTemple
TheTemple

Firmware, Bloatware, Malware, now Wearware!

random2010
random2010

Where are the concrete examples where Google Glass provides measurable added value to business over and above that provided by existing devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops etc.? The line about tracking nurse rounds in a hospital (or lets face it, for the rest of us it would be tracking how long we spend at the water cooler or in the bathroom) gets close, but technology to track movement of people in the workplace. It can be contained in your ID badge, for example. Similarly, tracking technology for forklifts in a warehouse is well estqablished. From a business perspecitve I have yet to see a sensible justification for Google Glass. What I have seen so far is the enthusiasm of fellow geeks and gadget lovers and strained attempts to invent plausible reasons for these devices in business, which, when viewed objectively, tend to be attempts to solve a problem which does not exist. That doesn't mean wearable devices won't catch on. They might, but right now Google Glasses and the like seem better suited for tech enthusiasts and consumers, not for the average office.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Some of the servers I support have site-specific configurations that involve entering a large amount of data. I can see the convenience of having both the instructions and data available at the flick of an eye. And for a tech performing a rarely-required or complex procedure at a remote site, the Google Glass could eliminate the need to have the process/equipment owner on the phone talking him through the procedure. The application is there. I'm not so sure about the need, though.