Innovative vision

A GOOGLE GLASS REVIEW

RELEASED IN 2013, Google Glass is thought by some to be the next big thing in technology. Others think it is nothing more than an overpriced hands-free device. Ontario Grain Farmer magazine decided to see if it would benefit farmers.

PHOTO: DARREN MARSLAND FROM FARMS.COM EXPLAINS HOW GOOGLE GLASS WORKS TO KEVIN ARMSTRONG.

WHAT IS GOOGLE GLASS?
Developed by Google, Google Glass is a wearable technology that uses an optical head-mounted display. The display, a small prism housed on the right side of the glasses, uses a Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS), field- sequential colour, LED-illuminated display. The hands-free, smartphone technology operates using a series of voice commands and a touchpad.

The touchpad, located on the side of the glasses, allows users to control the device. Swiping the side allows users to interface with the options viewed on the display screen. Sliding your hand backward allows you to view current events, such as weather. Sliding your hand forward allows you to view past events, such as phone calls you have made and photos you have taken.

Google Glass hit the market in April of 2013 in a limited capacity. It has been available to the public since May 2014, selling for about $1,500.

ON THE FARM

Darren Marsland, chief technology officer at Farms.com, sees great potential in Google Glass, especially when it comes to on-farm applications. Farmers, he believes, will like its hands-free capabilities and as the technology develops and new apps are designed, Google Glass’ potential will grow. Currently, though, the technology is limited. It can be used to take photos and 30 second videos (in 720p HD format). 

Glass users can receive news content feeds, stream video, and navigate the internet. They can also upload images to social channels, make phone calls, and send and receive email and text messages.

“It really is a supplemental tool to the smartphone or tablet you already know,” Marsland says. “The way Glass works, for certain functions you do need GPS and Wi-Fi. You do need your smartphone with you or your tablet with you.”

TESTING GLASS
We asked a group of individuals from within the agricultural industry — farmers, sales representatives, and agri-business owners — to test out Google Glass. Using a developer version purchased for Farms.com, Marsland walked the group through the basics of using the technology and then asked them if they would use it and how they would use the glasses on the farm.

“When you relate it specifically to agriculture, certainly anything hands-free is very useful,” says Marsland. “If you look on the crop side, there are a lot of potential applications around the crop scouting side.”

All of the testers agree that the video function is a good feature, but they feel that the 30-second maximum was limiting. There was a lot of discussion about using the video function to record mechanical repairs or issues in the field that could be addressed later.

The testers particularly like the camera function, since it allows you to take hands-free images. When you are making repairs, your hands are too greasy to pull your phone out to take images, says Kevin Armstrong, a Woodstock farmer and director for Grain Farmers of Ontario District 7 (Waterloo, Oxford). He imagines a number of scenarios where a hands-free camera would be useful. For instance, he says, it would be great if you could take an image of a missing part and send it off to your equipment dealer to identify. Or take an image of an unknown weed to send off to an agronomist. At the end of the day, though, these are all things that you can already do with your phone, he says.

Marsland agrees. “With certain applications, I don’t think it provides a significant amount of value unless you need that hands-free component,” he says.

In fact, most of the testers agree that at the moment, Glass just does not offer anything above and beyond a smartphone. “What does it do that your phone can’t?” asks Ken Currah, a market development agronomist with Pride Seeds. He is also concerned about the overall durability of the device and the potential for water damage. He also sees the cost of the technology as an issue.

“The biggest issue I see is battery life,” says Joe Van Quaethem, another Woodstock farmer.

Dennis Roth with Sevita International wants to see more apps to use with Google Glass, but expects that those will be developed as more people buy into the technology. Specifically, he says he would like to see something developed for weed identification and scouting.

A look at online product reviews for Google Glass reveals other concerns as well, including data privacy, potential damage from heat, the difficulty of using them on bright days, and how the glasses will work with safety goggles or prescription glasses. It is difficult to know at this point if Google Glass will gain widespread acceptance like the smartphone; but one thing is for sure — the potential is there. •