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Arkansans Look Through Google Glass, See the Future

5 min read

Put Google Glass in the hands of Dr. Christian Assad and he can shoot point-of-view video by voice command, teleconference with colleagues and instantly search the Web.

He can also see the future.

Assad, a cardiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, is among 8,000 people in the United States (and a handful in Arkansas) who are part of Google’s Explorer Program, which puts the search giant’s eye-catching, $1,500 wearable computer onto the heads of early adopters.

To qualify for the program, Assad had to submit a 50-word essay explaining how he would use the device. Winners were chosen in March, and Assad traveled last month to Google offices in New York City to buy his glasses and take a quick tutorial.

Since then, he’s been putting Glass through its paces. But it’s not all fun and games. Assad has been thinking about how Glass could upend the health care industry, improving how doctors train, interact with patients and manage electronic medical records.

Assad estimates that 30 percent of his time is spent dealing with outdated medical systems that limit his productivity. He thinks that Glass, part of an emerging category of wearable technology, could recapture that wasted time.

“I hoping that Glass can actually change that, and it’s something I want to be a part of,” he said.

Inside Glass

Google Glass is a lightweight headset packed with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology that can connect to the Internet and link to a smartphone. Using a tiny lens on the front corner just above the eye, Glass shoots high-quality 720p video and 5-megapixel photos.

Glass also allows users to post photos and videos to Google+, videoconference via Google Hangouts, search the Web and use turn-by-turn navigation powered by Google Maps. Amazingly, all this data — photos, video, search results, menu options, maps — is displayed on a tiny, centimeter-wide display perched just in front of the user’s right eye.

Glass is operated by voice commands and finger swipes. The device conserves its limited battery by going to sleep during periods of inactivity. Users wake Glass with a tilt of the head and a quick command: “Okay Glass: Take a picture.”

Video: Glass Explorer Brant Collins shows Lance Turner how Glass works

Along with the Android operating system, Glass is part of Google’s never-ending effort to put the Internet — and Google advertising — at the center of every imaginable experience. Glass, unveiled in 2012, is in its infant stage. But there are signs that Google is planning wider, more commercial production of the device. Last week, Google purchased a small stake in a Taiwanese company, Himax Display Inc., that builds tiny displays.


While Glass’ video and photo quality are impressive, apps are what will drive adoption. So far, Google has given developers limited access to Glass APIs. But that hasn’t stopped people like Assad from dreaming up programs for the device.

One is called CPRGlass, which would help a person wearing Glass to perform compression CPR before emergency medical help arrives.

Assad envisions a Glass wearer launching CPRGlass in an emergency, with the app guiding the wearer through CPR, monitoring the patient’s heart rate via Glass’ tiny camera, automatically dialing 911 and broadcasting the wearer’s location to first responders.

Assad said CPRGlass could also live-stream the event directly to medical professionals, who could monitor the situation via the point-of-view Glass camera and provide their own coaching until help arrives.

“We can change the way that CPR is getting to patients, because basically we start working as a team,” Assad said.

Assad is working on the idea with a team of developers called Evermed, and he said he’s talking to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about incorporation. But he’s also got other ideas, some relying on facial recognition technology that would allow a doctor or first responder to instantly call up a patient’s electronic medical records. He’s also thought about creating an augmented reality game that encourages exercise.

“What I thought was a pretty simple project is turning into a more elaborate and exciting one,” he said.

In the Classroom

Other Glass Explorers are ready to get the technology into the hands of students.

Corey Alderdice is director of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts in Hot Springs. He purchased Glass this month to use to help educators understand how students learn. The idea was to use video from a student wearing Glass to observe how he or she takes notes or works through a math problem.

But now he’s considering other uses. He said the seniors in his advanced programming classes are eager to play with Glass’ software development kit to see what apps they could develop. And documentary film students are considering what kind of first-person narrative movies they could produce using Glass’ point-of-view camera.

“I think the real fun is just putting the device in people’s hands,” he said.

Alderdice is even thinking how the school’s admissions office could use Glass for recruiting students. A first-person guided tour of the school, broadcast over Google Hangouts to faraway students, is particularly appealing, he said.

Right now, one of the biggest questions with Glass is whether it will reach mass appeal, or whether it will become a niche device. Google clearly has iPhone-like ubiquity in mind. The company has said it wants to eventually sell a “consumer edition” for $300 to $500.

Alderdice thinks the question hinges on the kinds of programs developers will deliver. “The success of a device like this comes down to finding those killer apps that inspire people to see the potential in it,” he said.

Assad is confident about Glass’ future. While he said Google has a lot of work to do honing the device, he’s sure the company has a hit on its hands.

“I’d be surprised if this doesn’t become mainstream,” he said.

How They Got Glass

To apply for the Google Glass Explorers program, people wrote a 50-word essay on how they would use the device. Google then chose the winners. Here are the applications from Assad and Alderdice:

• Alderdice, via Google+
#ifihadglass I’d use it to assist Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts teachers in understanding how students experience STEM classroom learning from their perspective. How do they take notes? How do they participate in project-based learning? How do teachers engage them?

• Assad, via Twitter (@christianassad)

@projectglass #ifihadglass I would create augmented reality games tailored to different age groups and transform exercise into a FUN RPG

Follow These Explorers

You can follow Assad, Alderdice and Collins on social media as they experiment with Google Glass:

• Assad on Twitter at @christianassad and Google+. You can see a demo of CPRGlass at Medbonsai.wordpress.com. See photos and videos taken with Glass right here.

• Alderdice on Google+.

• Collins on Twitter at @brantc and Google+. And see Collins instruct an Akido class wearing Google Glass.

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