The Enterprise Gives Google Glass a Second Look
The wearable tech didn’t catch on with consumers, but it’s gaining widespread acceptance in the workplace, from automakers to insurance.
This program was produced by the Marketing Department of WIRED and Ars in collaboration with CA Technologies.
Google Glass was an epic fail, right? Maybe not.
Sure, the head-mounted wearable computer elicited a firestorm of objections about privacy when it came out in 2013, and it struggled with countless bugs and a flat response from consumers—perhaps because walking around with your computer in front of your eyes made you a bit of a freak on the subway. Plus, it cost $1,300 to boot.
But Glass didn’t die. In fact, it’s picking up steam in niche businesses where people need hands-free laptops.
“Microsoft Office doesn’t work if I’m wearing work gloves and have a wrench in my hand,” says Lucas Schlager, marketing director of Pristine, a venture-backed startup that sells Glass to businesses for streaming video. “This is hands-free, and some businesses have cracked the code and found real business value.”
“Some businesses have cracked the code and found real business value.”
— Lucas Schlager, marketing director, Pristine
Saving on Travel Costs—and Time
Smart glasses are becoming standard equipment on some car assembly lines. Field technicians now use them to get instant help repairing equipment from senior, remotely located colleagues. Surgeons wear them to teach far-flung students by streaming live surgeries. Inspectors rely on them to see inside containers on cargo ships and check on deliveries. And insurance risk control consultants wear them when sizing up a commercial business for an insurance policy.
Case in point: This summer, Erie Insurance, a Pennsylvania insurer, equipped seven of its underwriters with smart glasses while out reviewing sites. Erie’s underwriters wear the glasses to get on-the-spot answers about a property they’re reviewing from supervisors back in the office. Perhaps a supervisor needs a second look at the safety controls on equipment inside a manufacturing facility, or they want to oversee the underwriter’s work regarding fire hazards inside a factory’s spray paint booth.
The live video stream puts the supervisor right there, looking over the underwriter’s shoulder, without the travel. Normally it would require photos and video documentation and several hours to get those answers—or a supervisor would accompany an underwriter on such trips, says Bob Kupris, Erie’s director of risk control.
Dizziness hasn’t been a problem, nor has the worry of looking like a cyborg. The only challenge so far has been occasional spotty cell service, Kupris says, since the tech requires a solid Internet connection, but those cases have been rare. In fact, the savings of both time and travel costs was enough that the insurer will roll out smart glasses to its 50-person risk control staff over the next three years. “The feedback has been positive,” Kupris says.
Eyeing Mass Adoption
While the rest of the world declared Glass dead, the enterprise market for Glass has quietly been building, as companies like Microsoft, ODG, Vuzix and Sony bet on smart glasses, and startups like Pristine and AMA Xperteye package the equipment with software for key industries. The software can be specific: annotating live video streams, sending text messages while sharing screens in noisy settings or compiling a report in the background while transcribing and capturing video.
“We’re seeing it go from pilot tests to mass industry adoption,” says Tony Sun, an analyst who follows the technology at Lux Research, which focuses on emerging technologies. Volkswagen has made smart glasses, equipped with touch- and voice-control capabilities, standard equipment at one of its oldest plants. Yet the technology still needs time to mature, argues Sun, and the biggest barrier to adoption is that there is no single technology standard that weaves all the hardware and software together. “It’s fragmented,” he says.
Still, AugmentedReality.org projected last year that smart glasses would not only survive but thrive, hitting 1 billion shipments by 2020. Schlager, who leads marketing at the Austin-based Pristine, is equally bullish on Glass’ prospects. Pristine, which has 24 employees, bet the farm on Glass, and has $5.5 million from investors riding on its potential. “We’re coming out of the trough of despair,” Schlager says, “and I really think 2017 will be the year of the smart glass.”