Gadgets: The return of Google Glass
Google Glass is back, said Steven Levy in Wired.com, and the people wearing it this time definitely aren’t “Glassholes.” That epithet was often applied to anyone wearing the notorious computer glasses before 2015, when Alphabet, Google’s parent company, pulled the device from the market after a backlash over privacy concerns. Now Glass has been reimagined as a practical tool for manufacturing workers. Unlike the earlier, consumer iteration, which was meant to be worn all the time and could check email or take hands-free videos, Glass Enterprise Edition is strictly for business. Assembly line workers can get step-by-step instructions delivered right to their sight lines, or fast, hands-free assistance on where to locate the right tool in a warehouse. Corporate heavyweights like General Electric, Boeing, and DHL have been quietly testing Glass for the past two years, and “have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality.”
“In a lot of ways, the factory floor is where Glass should have always been,” said Jake Swearingen in NYMag.com. The consumer version was “too creepy, and not useful enough” to make it worth the $1,300 price tag, not to mention “the social stigma of looking like the world’s most gung ho laser-tag player.” Glass Enterprise is still about as expensive as the original version, “but the difference between what a business is willing to pay to help its workers be more productive or safer versus what a consumer will pay for a new gadget is vast.” The software can also be customized to different businesses, so that a medical-device maker, say, and a tractor manufacturer get precisely what they need to make their factories run more efficiently.
“So why didn’t Google think of this before?” asked Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg.com. Probably because Silicon Valley’s first instinct “is to aim for the masses.” Google was fixated on a quixotic effort to invent the next smartphone, and belatedly realized Glass’ industrial potential, mostly after companies began experimenting with the technology on their own. “Google Glass may yet break out of factories into the wider world—but only if workers start missing the headsets outside their jobs.” That doesn’t mean workers should wholeheartedly embrace the new Glass, said Jennings Brown in Gizmodo.com. Sure, it shaves some time off certain tasks, but the new Glass has the same problem as the old: It can capture and record everything around it. No matter how useful it is, employees are justified in being wary of “a company-owned device that tells them what to do and could be used to constantly monitor their work.”
AGCO, Takao Someya/University of Tokyo ■