Success is not just a matter of timing but if also finding the right context. That’s the story behind Google Glass reception. Its first foray ended in failure, but it has found a new context in which it could thrive.
I remember when Google Glass was launched in 2013 as the ultimate wearable with a sticker price of $1,500. I recall reading one review that conceded that it had some problems but still thought that it was to be embraced as “the future” of tech. Just about every other reviewer rejected them, among them one who went on to list the reasons why people hate it.
As it turns out, both sides were right. People did have major issues with Google Glass as a personal device. However, the hands-free convenience combined with smartphone capability proved very valuable in an industrial setting.
That’s why Alphabet X stopped trying to sell Google Glass directly as a consumer item and it up into the Enterprise Edition of the wearable. Its current tagline is: “Glass is a hands-free device, for hands-on workers.” The product is no longer sold by Google directly but through partners who have customized the device for industrial purposes.
Among the Glass partners is Upskill, a market leader in enterprise software for augmented reality devices used in industry. Its version of Glass works off the Skylight platform and is used by GE and is described in An Alphabet X blog entitled “A New Chapter for Glass.”
The blog reports that the benefit for GE is not only a reduction of “errors at key points in the assembly and overhaul of engines” but also an eight to 12% improvement in “their mechanics’ efficiency.” Sometimes the increase in productivity is even greater.
Here’s a video in which a GE technician compares the smart against current process for completing wiring insertions for a wind turbine that shows a 34.5% productivity improvement.
Those results are consistent with those described in “Augmented Reality Gets Beyond Games to Help Logistics.” Smart glasses improve operations for factory and warehouses workers because they allow them to get the information they need about what they are looking at, sparing them from having to shift their view to scroll through a separate device or, even worse, leaf through a manual.
A New Chapter for Glass illustrates that point by showing a picture of the formidably thick binder that houses the assembly engine manual for GE mechanics. They no longer have to carry the binder or take the time to find the information they need when they can access it instantly on their Glass Enterprise Edition. It “shows them instructions with videos, animations and images right in their line of sight so they don’t have to stop work.”
As the Wired article on what it termed “Google Glass 2.0” put it: “It turns out that with Glass, Google originally developed something with promising technology—and in its first effort at presenting it, failed to understand who could use it best and what it should be doing.
Making Google Glasses into something useful was not born at Alphabet itself but in companies that are make its list of partners, Wired points out. They started to apply “custom software to tackle specific tasks for their corporate customers” to Google Glass units. So, the cues were taken from industrial applications of the existing product.
Wired quotes Upskill’s CEO, Brian Ballard: “They had seen how we were using it, and rethought everything—how you charge it, fold it up, prevent sweating, Wi-Fi coverage.”
Those enhanced wearables enable “’assisted reality,’’ which delivers the essential function of “’mixed reality’ helmets that overlay graphics and information” over a view “of the real world” with less bulk and at a lower cost than fully immersive helmet.
While Alphabet evades answering the question about price on the Glass FAQ page, Wired cites a price of $1,300 to $1,500 for the units used by AGCO. That means that the Enterprise Edition costs about the same as the original Google Glass, though it has the potential now to deliver a lot more value in the context of manufacturing and logistics.
For those in the industries that benefit, that’s reason enough to raise a glass to the evolved wearable.