Tech firms try out Google Glass to aid, provide data about government agencies


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Print In addition to sports, entertainment and utility applications, government is finding its place on Google Glass as well. (Image: iStockphoto)

A popular YouTube clip shows Indiana Pacers star Roy Hibbert dunking, dribbling, passing and blocking shots, only from a highly different vantage point. By wearing Google Glass, viewers get to experience just how he slams the basketball into the hoop and maneuvers around the court from a player’s unique perspective.

Another Glass app provides an alternative to cooks chopping vegetables while scrolling or swiping on a tablet hoping not to get sauce on the screen. KitchMe lets cooks hear recipe directions spoken aloud to them while images of the steps are beamed to them and show before their very eyes.

Alongside these sports, entertainment and utility applications, government is finding its place on Google Glass, too. Though Glass is still new and in the hands of a small slew of early adopters, a few cutting-edge communications companies and developers are trying to employ the hands-free, interactive qualities of Glass to both help government agencies function better and provide the public with more information about the agencies themselves.

Augmented Advocacy is considered the first political Glass app launched. How it works? If someone is wearing Glass and approaches a major federal government building around Washington D.C., a notification pops up on the display about who the department head is, what the department’s budget is and a link to the agency’s contact page.

“Our goal was: what’s something we can do that’s promoting transparency?” said Ian Spencer, a principal at Red Edge, the Arlington, Va-based company that created the app.

Red Edge’s work primarily lies in messaging technology for various political advocacy groups and government-related causes and in developing mobile and Web applications for these constituencies. So developing a political Glass app was within the company’s wheelhouse, yet took a leap into an emerging platform.

Spencer said when Google released a software development kit enabling developers to build apps on Glass, Red Edge immediately wanted to give it a go in a political, nonpartisan context. In a matter of days during December, programmers created Augmented Advocacy.

They sat on the app for a few weeks before releasing it publicly at the end of January.

Because Google Glass isn’t widely available yet, there are limits to who can try it out. Presently, Google is in the midst of an Explorer program whereby early adopters can apply to receive a device. The price point is also high for individuals — $1,500 — so most owners of Glass are in the tech sphere trying out the wearable device to create products.

Spencer and his team so far have input 15 data points, or federal buildings, into the application. But this could easily bump up to hundreds or thousands, he said. The information shared on the Glass screen could also expand into an unlimited amount of data about that agency, what its plans are and workers. Really, the underlying objective is making government information more readily available in a new way.

The intended user “is anyone who is a concerned citizen who has interest in knowing all of the government offices nearby,” Spencer noted. “If they see something frustrating and want to take action, they can. If they want to make a phone call or send an email in real-time, they can.”

Wearable technology, particularly Glass, holds a wealth of possibilities, so the upside for Red Edge in being a leader in experimenting with it is to be at the forefront of these possibilities, according to Spencer.

“We’re not treating it like something we’d sell just yet,” he said. “We’re viewing it as Sputnik. It’s a trial, not a finished app. We’re trying to explore the space to see what’s possible, sending (our product) to others to expand upon it.”

Rather than transparency in politics, Mutualink is a network development firm banking on Glass as a way to foster better communications among government entities. Based in Connecticut with offices around the globe, the company’s work has focused on bridging communications between federal, state and local agencies, especially in emergency contexts when officials want to share a blend of different media. The firm also does work with the military and the private sector, including aiding with security at this year’s Super Bowl.

Mutualink’s technology solution is distributed, peer-to-peer and allows agencies to control their own resources, which is why it’s used by hundreds of agencies, according to Vice President of Innovation Mike Wengrovitz.

For the most part, the user interfaces for the system have been smartphones, tablets and handheld devices, he said. So agencies are sharing maps, reports, images and text while also talking to each other through these mobile units.

“What we realized, though, is that a tablet takes one or two hands,” Wengrovitz said. “Especially in the case of an emergency response, that’s one or two hands you could be using to do something else to help. What if you could deliver that information, instead, to your eye?”

At the same time of this realization, Google Glass introduced its Explorer program. Mutualink began to see its government clients could employ the wearable devices to enhance existing efforts and improve the communications capabilities. So the company applied to join the program and began experimenting with Glass.

“We opted to connect Google Glass to our existing system that we’re using for these agencies anyway,” he said.

Mutualink is still early in the testing process and is giving constant feedback to Google about the product along the way. The company has become heavily involved in working to improve school safety and is running drills to use Google Glass in a context in which law enforcement officials would be deployed to a school and need to work to control a dangerous situation.

“We’ve demonstrated in a couple of exhibitions how to use this with two-way audio and one-way video,” Wengrovitz said, so emergency workers can share images and multimedia in real-time with the Glass camera. “There’s still a lot of issues to work out. There’s the whole problem of, ‘How do things work when you have a team of first responders? Who gets to see what? Under what conditions does my camera get seen by everyone or just select personnel?’”

Like Red Edge, Mutualink leaders said they think this is just the beginning for wearable technology and its use surrounding government.

“With wearable devices there are new forms of collaboration possible,” he said. “There are usages and crossover between domains of government at every level and local entities. For any group that has problems with silos of communication, this could help.”

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Augmented Advocacy, emerging technology, Google Glass, Government IT News, Innovation, KitchMe, Mutualink, Red Edge, Tech, Wearable tech
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