For something about as popular as New Coke, Google Glass seems to be finding its way back into the spotlight.
News sites and the blog site 9to5Google have unearthed a number of rumors surrounding the interactive eyewear, which was shelved earlier this year after a number of less-than-flattering consumer experiences and placed under the direction of Nest creator Tony Fadell. But with healthcare and certain other industries still keen on the technology, it's safe to say the concept could soon see a renaissance.
And while Google will likely make the biggest splash when it unearths the next-generation eyewear, it isn't the only one in the sandbox. Along with rumored products from Microsoft, Sony and Samsung, smaller companies from California to Spain are also piloting VR-based eyewear to the enterprise market, and healthcare is certainly taking notice.
Meanwhile, the next version of Google's product won't be Google Glass 2.0, primarily because version 1.0 failed so miserably in the consumer market. With that in mind, Google is apparently focusing only on the enterprise market, and will name this the Enterprise Edition, aimed squarely at the workplace.
In addition, the next iteration will apparently come with hinged arms, enabling the glasses to be folded like a normal pair of eyeglasses. The glasses will also reportedly be more rugged and waterproof, with a bigger viewing area and an Intel Atom processor for better performance and battery life.
[See also: R.I. hospital tries out Google Glass in the ER]
In documents filed with the FCC, Google had already indicated the new device (it hasn't disclosed that the device is indeed Google Glass) would support 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth LE and include rechargeable, non-removable batteries, an AC charger and a USB cable. In addition, Italian fashion designed Luxottica had disclosed it was joining in the manufacture process, ostensibly to give the eyewear a more consumer-friendly appearance.
Rafael Grossmann, a general and trauma surgeon at Bangor, Maine-based Eastern Maine Medical Center and one of the foremost experts on Google Glass inhealthcare, says the next version will likely be a much more focused product, with better connectivity, a wider viewing area and better battery life than the first version. He's also hoping that Google includes more telemedicine connections, perhaps a Hangouts-like link that would enable clinicians to collaborate while wearing the glasses and without the need for a third-party app.
Despite a couple of public comments from Google executives pledging that the much-maligned project isn’t dead, don't expect the new product to make a splashy debut any time soon. Fadell recently told BBC News it's going to take some time to get the next version done right, and others have speculated that we won't see anything until sometime next year.
Meanwhile, while much of the attention seems focused on Google, a handful of other companies are piloting their own enterprise-specific smartglasses in healthcare and other industries. They include Epson, Vuzix, ODG and Atheer Labs.
Grossmann, who travels to conferences around the world, has been particularly interested in Atheer, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup whose 3D smartglasses and Augmented Interactive Reality (AiR) platform enable users to trigger commands by simple hand gestures, rather than touching the glasses.
"The gesture modality is really something," says Grossmann, who's been demonstrating the glasses in conferences as far away as the Middle East. "The no-touch (platform) is ideal for healthcare."
“We are rapidly evolving the AiR platform and optimizing it to the needs of deskless enterprise workforce who are often hands-on to get the job done,” Alberto Torres, the company's CEO, said in a June 9 press release. “By delivering a comprehensive set of Intelligent Interactions, Atheer is empowering workers to interact with augmented digital content in the way that best suits their individual needs and environment, thereby streamlining workflows and improving productivity.”
San Francisco-based Osterhout Design group (ODG) unveiled its R-7 SmartAR glasses in June, armed with Qualcomm technology. Company founder and CEO Ralph Osterhout said the eyewear has been in development for six years and is "packed with positional sensors."
“Hardware is the foundation upon which industries are built and our mobile, hybrid devices, capable of both AR and VR, are unique and put us in a prime position to capture the accelerating adoption of this type of technology,” he said in a press release announcing the new smartglasses, which feature an advanced HD camera, the Qualcomm Vuforia mobile vision platform, the Android-based ReticleOS operating platform and a powerful Snapdragon 805 processor. The company is also partnering with AeroGlass and Vital Medicals.