Google Glass Upgrades to Business Class, With Enterprise Edition

When Ian Shakil co-founded a company in 2012 to deploy Google Glass in doctor’s offices, his team had never possessed a set of the computer-enhanced eyewear that Google debuted that year.

Google wasn’t yet selling the augmented reality glasses, which were being touted as the next big thing in consumer electronics, not as business tools. To test its vision of freeing doctors from note-taking chores during patients’ exams, the startup, Augmedix, had to get hold of some of those early versions of Google Glass by “guerilla methods,” a chuckling Shakil says today.

“Google pretended we didn’t exist,” Augmedix CEO Shakil says wryly. “We had a very non-existent relationship.”

Undaunted, San Francisco-based Augmedix hunted down some of the hundred or so sets of the eyewear that Google had distributed to a select few, including celebrities. “We found those people and bought their glasses, after they were done taking their selfies,” Shakil says.

That arm’s length relationship with Google has more than reversed, as a big announcement revealed this week.

By 2014, after a consumer market for the glasses failed to materialize, Google Glass development teams realized that a different future for the invention might already be in the works at renegade startups like Augmedix, according to Shakil’s account. They created a project called Glass at Work.

After several years of collaborating behind the scenes with Augmedix and other business partners—selling them Glass versions in bulk, making upgrades to the glasses, and supplying them with documentation—the Google Glass team on Tuesday formally unveiled Glass Enterprise Edition. It’s a more advanced version of the original Google Glass Explorer, designed specifically for business applications. The Glass project is now based at Alphabet X, a unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Alphabet is now inviting businesses to adopt the technology for uses such as hands-free training, manufacturing, and healthcare.

[The move puts Alphabet in direct competition with Microsoft in the arena of business uses for augmented reality technology. The Redmond, WA-based technology giant offers a $5,000 HoloLens package targeted at businesses, and last year touted proof-of-concept applications such as supplemental training of airline mechanics at Japan Airlines.]

Ironically, new business users will have to go through existing Glass Partners such as Augmedix to score their own sets of the Enterprise Edition glasses—at least for the time being—along with software the partners have developed to adapt the tool for various industries. Alphabet has also set up an application process for new partners.

“The more, the merrier,” Shakil says. “I want them all to succeed.”

The new version of Glass includes an array of improvements that makes it “much smoother in an enterprise environment,” Shakil says. “I think this is a real win for Glass. I’m really proud of them for persevering.”

Like the original Google Glass, the Enterprise Edition is equipped with a camera, a microphone, and a computer unit that projects information into the visual field of the wearer. Augmedix has adapted Glass to stream doctor-patient conversations to remote human scribes, who enter relevant medical information into electronic health records. Doctors can also ask the computer to display information to them through the glasses, such as recent cholesterol test results, so they can better counsel the patient or write prescriptions, for example. (Doctor pictured above using one of the Glass versions Augmedix has worked with.)

Shakil says the new version eliminates much of the “friction” that could make it hard for overworked doctors to use the technology. He points to big items, such as the Enterprise Edition’s improved wireless connections and processing power. But he also notes “a lot of small things” that can make a difference to acceptance in a healthcare setting. The new edition has an indicator light patients can see, to tell them whether the wearable’s camera is on or off. Augmedix allows patients to opt out of the use of Glass during their exams, and the new glasses allow doctors to turn the camera off at any point during an exam.

Other improvements over Google Glass Explorer: the computing unit can be detached from the Enterprise Edition frames, if a doctor wants to keep the wearable on and use it just like an ordinary pair of glasses throughout the day, Shakil says. (Prescription lenses can be incorporated into the unit.) Another small but convenient new feature: the glasses fold, he says.

Augmedix’s system is now used by nearly a thousand doctors across a dozen health care systems, including Sutter Health, Dignity Health, TriHealth, and CHI. The company has raised a total of $65 million, Shakil says.

The CEO says he expects a boost to the company’s plan to sign on more healthcare systems, now that Alphabet’s commitment to supporting business uses of Glass has been confirmed publicly.

The more than 30 Glass Partners that have been collaborating with the Glass team for the past two years include Upskill (located in San Francisco, Austin, TX, and Washington DC), which feeds instructions to mechanics working on engines for clients such as GE; Lexington, MA-based swyMed and Indianapolis, IN-based Hodei Technology, which link healthcare workers in the field to doctors providing advice and instructions; Brain Power of San Francisco and Boston, which is adapting Glass to help people with autism and traumatic brain injury; and Ann Arbor, MI-based EyeSucceed, which addresses training and other challenges in the food industry.

Counting clients of Glass Partners, more than 50 businesses have been using Glass Enterprise Edition, Jay Kothari, Project Lead of the Glass initiative wrote in a Tuesday blogpost about the wider opening of access to Glass Enterprise Edition.

“Workers in many fields, like manufacturing, logistics, field services, and healthcare find it useful to consult a wearable device for information and other resources while their hands are busy,” Kothari wrote.

Photo courtesy of Augmedix

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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