Consumers won't get to use Google Glass 2.0, but their doctors might

By Jonah Comstock

Google GlassIt's been clear for a while that Google sees the future of the Glass program in the enterprise, rather than through the Explorer program or directly to consumers. Now 9to5Google is reporting that Glass version 2, due out this year, will be distributed exclusively through Google's Glass at Work partners.

A full five out of ten of those partners are healthcare or healthcare-adjacent companies: Augmedix, Pristine, Advanced Medical Applications, CrowdOptic, and Wearable Intelligence. And according to 9to5, select partners have already had access to the second-generation device.

As a consequence of Google's enterprise focus, the next generation of device is being designed with enterprise needs in mind. This includes the addition of a 5 GHz WiFi band to support smoother streaming video, which could be key to a number of healthcare applications. It also includes improved battery life, both thanks to an Intel chip that will extend the life of the device and an optional external battery. 

At last year's Partner's Connected Health Symposium, Dr. Steven Horng, the emergency department lead for the Google Glass Project at Beth Israel, talked about exactly why battery life is important for use in the hospital.

“This isn’t a device that was meant to be worn as a heads up display that’s on 24/7 that’s constantly looking for voice commands," he said at the time. "That’s not what Glass was built for, it was meant for episodic use. Using it in this way drains the device like no other. Glass [when used by consumers] is meant to have a battery life that lasts for quite a while, for us it lasts maybe two hours, maybe one. If you turn on all its features, probably less. You can certainly add on a battery pack, and that’s what we did, to get us to 12 to 14 hours. But then you have the processor going all the time and with external charging, this makes for a very, very hot device that is perhaps sometimes dangerous.”

Pristine evangelist Lucas Schlager and Augmedix CEO Ian Shakil both told MobiHealthNews in January that Google has been a responsive partner for their startups.

"Google is realizing they put out Glass early,” Schlager said at the time. “They feel like they’ve learned what they needed to incorporate into their next generation in terms of their hardware and software. They want to focus on that, so it’s ‘Let’s really work more closely with the enterprise guys because they’re the ones that are making moves, and we’ll move back into the consumer products when we think the market’s ready.'”

“Google knows our 2015 and beyond ramp-up plans and volume needs," Shakil added. "So they’ve arranged for their supply chain to make sure we can service our healthcare customers. And it’s not just a version one, but next generation offerings when they’re ready. We have 100 percent assurances that we’re covered.”

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that a Washington University professor has developed a tool that combines a cancer-targeting dye with special glasses to allow a surgeon to "make the cancer cells light up like Christmas trees" during surgery. Dr. Samuel Achilefu, a professor of radiology at Washington University, is testing the technology in clinical trials. It's a reminder that the healthcare possibilities for smart glasses are expansive, and largely unexplored.