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Google Glass: A New Pair of Wearable Computing Glasses

Wearable computing has been around the AEC industry for decades, so why the sudden hype about Google Glass?  Because it’s Google and because it looks cooler than past efforts. Google Glass is a wearable computing device that fits on like a pair of traditional glasses and is activated by voice command. Google Glass uses an automatic connection to the Internet–also known as the cloud–to provide access to enormous amounts of information, data and applications that are superimposed on the left or right lens you are looking through.

As part of their “Moonshot” program of research and development projects, Google has created a first generation attempt at superimposing data and multimedia onto Glass while allowing the user to send video, snapshots and data back to their own storage area in the cloud (Google Drive or their own server) or to another person, who may or may not be wearing Glass.

They hype surrounding Glass in the market is that it actually works–some AEC firms are already experimenting with it–and it creates the mystique that users in this early stage are in an elite class, similar to the early users of an iPad. Strip away the hype, and there just might be something to this latest Tech of the Day. The price tag is high at $1,500 per pair, but it is expected to go lower later this year.

Google Glass is a first generation technology, so some aspects like graphics are clunky, but functional. What Glass brings to the AEC market is another layer of technology that aims to improve tasks such as quality assurance, inspections and insurance claims, and solving issues in the field by providing instant augmented reality back to the office to help users make more informed decisions. What is possible, with some minimal software coding, is to take what Google provides out of the box and customize workflows so communication and coordination of multimedia to and from Glass can take place in a more disciplined manner than the mass market offering.

Glass would beneficial to a project manager or superintendent in the field who would record events during the day, including date-stamped weather conditions, field conditions and worker issues, and be able to save these reports as part of their daily reports and perhaps even as part of a BIM project. The reports could be video and/or audio embedded with voice activation. Of course, this first generation product is highly sensitive and, in the thick of an active job site, it is difficult to use the voice activation commands. This will need to be addressed in future generations of Glass.

The same type of reporting could be very valuable to building inspectors who could use Glass to expedite inspections by having authenticated data augmented in the monitor while in the field. For example, requiring Glass on a jobsite and having a dedicated person to provide the inspector video proof of work completed at a milestone while the inspector is at a command center or at another site could allow the inspector to do more with less.

Surety, bonding and insurance companies would be very interested in a better recorded project. Installing webcams at a jobsite is not a new thing, but having mobility at such a low cost would tell a better story about how work did or did not get done. Architects and engineers would have a better tool in the field to turn around RFIs and assist with field condition issues. In addition, they would have a wonderful way of seeing their BIM in the office with embedded data coming to life, superimposed with proper data viewed in Glass. The hand off from project closeout documents to commissioning to facility management could be a much smoother and more accurate process, with Glass providing solutions such as “seeing” what is behind a closed-up wall or ceiling.

The good news is that AEC firms such as Kling Stubbins Jacobs, DPR and others are beginning to experiment with Google Glass and will be showing their initial results at industry trade shows in the coming months. As with all initial product launches, a lot of work still needs to be done to make Glass a useful product in the AEC market, but seeing the willingness of AEC firms to at least try and use a mass market product with such vigor gives all of us great hope for the future.

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