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C2C Lantern (Fall 2014/ Winter 2015)

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Through the Looking Glass….and Other Wearables

By Robert Gibson, Emporia State University

I recently acquired a set of Google Glasses as part of the Glass Explorer Program. For one day only last April 15th anyone was allowed to purchase Glass and self-enlist in the program. Formerly, the only way to acquire the mysterious and elusive Glass was through special invitations and incentives, such as a contest Google sponsored on Twitter to see who could envision the most creative adaptations for the product. A Cornell University music professor won a pair of Google Glasses with her proposal to use the technology when conducting live symphonies. Until then, I only knew of two people that had Glass. When asked, they were frustratingly elusive regarding how they came to own the technology. So when the opportunity presented itself, I elected to give it a try.

The parameters of the Glass Explorer program were loosely constructed, but the overarching goal was that Explorers might be able to identify new and innovative uses for the technology, and then present that information to the Glass community. The program has since been expanded so that anyone wishing to do so can purchase Google Glass and join Explorer. The cost is a bit prohibitive, however. Be prepared to pay $1500 with no educational discounts. There are a variety of options to choose from, including an array of frame colors and a sunglass kit. There is also the ability to use Glass in conjunction with prescription lens. However, the frames must be supplied by Google, not your local optometrist. Having lens’ crafted for these specialized frames might cost another $800.

Setting up Glass

When Glass arrived a few days after purchasing I was impressed with the packaging. Borrowing from Apple, Google spared no expense in a creating a sleek, sophisticated product presentation. No detail was spared - right down to color striping the USB charging cable to make it easier to match the with the power adapter. In fact, the box itself is so sophisticated that it is really one with the product. 

The process for setting up Glass is relatively simple. After initial charging, the user simply turns it on using a small power button on the temple. The retinal camera has some minor adjustment capabilities. There is no speaker or headphone, per se. Rather, a unique sensor on the temple tip touches a bone on the back of the users’ skull. Audio is transmitted through this sensor and detected by the brain as an audio signal. Quite ingenious. A very small microphone is located near the retinal camera. The retinal camera and screen provides step-by-step directions for activating the device and synchronizing it with your phone or tablet using Bluetooth. Google Glass works natively with Android devices, although it can be used in conjunction with iOS devices as well. Users must first download MyGlass from the Google Play Store or Apple Store which pairs with the physical Glass and allows the user to sideload a variety of apps through a site called Glassware. Most apps are installed using the phone app, although advanced users can install apps directly from a Mac or PC. Once installed, the user simply uses a series of swipe gestures to move through a rolodex-like set of applications and settings. 

Glass Basics

Glass uses a combination of tactical input, head motion, voice activation, and eye blinks to control its functions (Figure 1).These gestures are often parodied, such as when Ellen DeGeneres recently lampooned the device on her TV program, and when senior citizens were exposed to Glass for the first time on the popular Elders React… YouTube series. Although it takes some getting used to, I found the gesture control to be relatively intuitive. One of the two Glass temples contains the tactile sensor. Users can swipe forward, backward, up and down to engage apps. Eye blinking can be used to take photos and videos. When using voice activation, users must start each Glass command using the phraseology “OK Glass...” followed by a particular command. Users quickly learn these commands.

What Can You Do?

Glass comes installed with basic utilities. I then installed a number of applications, including social media, news, maps, and other tools available through MyGlass. Tweets, G+, and Facebook feeds appear onscreen, as does breaking news. Using Google Maps in conjunction with Glass, users can triangulate their location and show video relative to a city, street, or building. Google searches, notes, Gmail, weather, and other functions are also available. I’m continuing to explore new applications on a regular basis. Given that the product was designed and developed by Google, it works most effectively with Google+, Gmail, Drive, Docs, Google search, and other Google utilities.

However, my research interest lies in how Glass can be used in the context of library information search. As part of the Explorer program, I’m planning to conduct empirical research regarding the use of wearables, including Glass, to locate information in libraries. I want to understand the possibilities of locating information simply by interacting with the wearable device in public and academic libraries. I would like to demonstrate the possibility of locating physical and digital resources as the user engages with the library.


In short, battery life. A single charge will last about 2 hours. Recharging takes about the same amount of time. Much of this depends on the quantity of video that is captured. The device is a bit unforgiving for large amounts of video. Therefore, the default capture duration is 10 seconds; however longer videos can be captured very easily.

Another disappointment was the inability to host Hangout meetings through Glass. Although supported in an earlier software version as evidenced by a physics professor who conducted a virtual field trip to the CERN physics laboratory in Switzerland (Figure 2), Google unfortunately elected to remove this functionality due to performance issues. It’s uncertain if we’ll see it reemerge in a later software update.

There are, in fact a variety of educational adaptations for Glass. If interested, I recommend the SlideShare entitled 14 Google Glass Innovative Use Cases in Education.

Continued Research - Wearables

In addition to Glass, I also acquired an Android Wear watch that can also be used for certain types of input and interaction, including Google searches. As this technology evolves, I believe there will be many opportunities for academic research. It might be that wearable technologies will supplant the need for users to locate information through computers and other forms of traditional information search. I envision a day in the very near future where students will simply interact with wearable devices to conduct academic research.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Gibson works at Emporia State University.  

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