It’s early days for Google Glass. Google has this year been shipping limited quantities of the US $1500 Explorer version, intended for developers and extreme early adopters. But it hasn’t yet announced a release date or price for the consumer version (though it seems like all the cool geeks in Silicon Valley already own the gadget).
So it’s only the very bravest of companies that have started unveiling their Google Glass apps to the world. Three firms demonstrated apps at DemoFall 2013, held last week in Santa Clara, Calif. I’ll give all three credit for being out there on the bleeding edge. But I thought only one had an app that makes any kind of sense.
Pristine Eyesight, from Pristine in Austin, Texas, got it right. Pristine's Google Glass application is for use in hospitals: doctors and other health care professionals wear the glasses to securely stream video to remote experts. The experts might be in a different room in the same hospital but tied up with an important task, or they might be across the world. A surgeon in the thick of surgery, for example, could be consulting with another surgeon. For the surgeon wearing Google Glass, the device is just a camera; the application doesn’t risk distracting him with text in his field of vision because any guidance comes through audio. For the consulting doctor on the other end, being able to see what the active surgeon sees would be a huge help. The company also expects nurses wearing Google Glass to be able to more effectively and quickly consult with doctors. The app for nurses will let them see text when reviewing a checklist, for example. Company founder Kyle Samani says he expects that the system will eventually be used extensively for surgical training; either students could closely observe a surgery from a doctor’s perspective, or a doctor could better coach a student by seeing exactly what the student is seeing.
Pristine is currently testing its system at the University of California, Irvine’s Medical Center, where it is being used in operating rooms and in the emergency room. The company says it has other pilots lined up at the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, CORE Institute, and Banner Health. Pristine expects to price its system on a subscription basis, per outfitted operating room or per bed. Right now, it’s estimating $7500 per month per operating room. Pristine says it will be ready to roll out as soon as Google Glass starts shipping in quantities.
Red Bottle Design from West Henrietta, N.Y., also launched a Google Glass app at DemoFall last week, but that one had me scratching my head. Red Bottle’s GlassPay app is intended for in-store shopping. Red Bottle envisions a customer walking around a store and upon seeing an item he or she wants to purchase, telling the Glasses to buy it. The idea is that you don’t actually have to pick merchandise up off the shelf. The company thinks this would be particularly useful at stores like Ikea, where furniture is on display, but not actually available until you pass through a warehouse area. At the end of your shopping trip, you tell Google Glass to pay, and Google Glass completes the transaction in Bitcoins. (In fact, the system ONLY displays prices in Bitcoins. If, like most of us, you tend to think in your national currency, this does complicate your shopping experience.) Then you go have a cup of coffee or something, and come back half an hour later to pick up your order.
At the beginning of the presentation, I figured I was just seeing an overenthusiastic Google Glass owner who was so enamored with his glasses that he didn’t quite get that even if Ikea would be willing to have its staff run around and fill orders, the app he envisioned would be much happier living in a smartphone than in Google Glass. But when founder Guy Paddock got to the Bitcoin part of his presentation, it started to seem to me that he was just trying to glam up an old idea (the app is already available for Android) and really doesn’t much care about Google Glass or Bitcoin.
Another company developing for Google Glass, Pro Populi, describes its People+ application as LinkedIn meets Wikipedia. People+ lets you follow people or companies, and, when you are about to walk up to someone you perhaps haven’t seen in a while or don’t know that well, you can quickly review a profile (that focuses on business information, not what they had for breakfast, says company founder Peter Berger), and catch up on recent news about the person or company. Pro Populi is making its app available for smartphones and Google Glass, but Berger says its real focus right now is building its database. At least Pro Populi has the good sense to know that its Google Glass version isn’t going to set the world on fire.
Photo: The Pristine Eyesight app for Google Glass would let surgeons consult with experts outside of the operating room. Credit: The Demo Conference
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.