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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2015

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There's an App for That

Wearable Technology & Google Glass: The Next Big Thing?

Chanitra Bishop
Formerly Digital Scholarship & Emerging Technologies Librarian
Indiana University Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana


Interest in wearable technologies has grown dramatically over the last year. Wearable technologies have been around for some time but have recently grown in popular appeal due to devices such as the Fitbit and the anticipated release of the Apple Watch in Spring 2015. The advent of devices such as Google Glass is bringing wearable technologies into the classroom. As these technologies begin to be applied in higher education as teaching tools, librarians will need to understand their potential and stay abreast of how and where they are being used.

What is Wearable Technology?

According to the web site Wearable Devices (Tehrani and Michael 2014), the terms wearable devices, wearables, or wearable technology refer to computers that have been integrated into clothing and accessories and can be easily worn. Due to their sensory and scanning capabilities, wearables often have functionality not available in mobile phones or tablets. Features such as biofeedback and the ability to track physiological functions provide users with more precise information about their health and wellness. In Wearable Sensors: Fundamentals, Implementation and Applications Park summarizes the features of wearable technologies as "functionality" on the go including checking e-mail and taking pictures (Park 2014). For a detailed definition and overview of wearable technology see the Educause piece "7 Things You Should Know About Wearable Technology", listed in the Additional Reading section at the end of this column.

Google Glass

Wearables are being used in industries such as medicine, tourism, law enforcement, construction, and are starting to become a part of our everyday lives, changing how we interact with technology. Users can now play virtual reality games with devices such as the Gear VR Innovator Edition by Samsung, or monitor fitness with a Fitbit, an activity and sleep tracking device worn around the wrist similar to a watch.

By far the most talked about wearable technology is Google Glass. It has been called a hands-free smartphone but like many wearable technologies, it is connected to your smartphone and certain features such as GPS require the use of a smartphone (Heine and Thielman 2013).

Like most new Google products, Google Glass began as invite only and was limited to early adopters and developers. Google expanded the number of users through the #ifihadglass contest on Twitter and Google+, in which potential users sent a message via Twitter or Google+ with the hashtag #ifihadglass, explaining how they would use Glass (Souppouris 2013). This made the product available to techies as well as non-techies such as librarians and other educators. Google is currently working on a new version of Glass and ended the Explorer Program as of January 19 (We're graduating from Google[x] labs 2015). While Glass is no longer available to consumers, industries that have found the product useful are still able to purchase it (Liedtke 2015).

While some wearable technology may have little practical application outside of fitness, Google Glass stands out in the field of wearables due to its voice-activated capabilities, allowing it to be used hands free. Glass also allows users to take pictures and record videos as well as stream video via Google Hangouts. In addition, users can project text and images to other Bluetooth-enabled devices, allowing Glass to function as a projector. Glass also has a growing list of applications. One example is Augmented Reality (AR) Glass for Wikipedia, which uses GPS to send information to Glass about the user's surroundings via Wikipedia (Miller 2014). Another is Homework for Glass, which allows students to keep track of assignment due dates. The WatchMeTalk and Captioning on Glass apps allow hearing impaired users to more easily participate in conversations, by converting speech to text. For the latter apps to work, the speaker uses an Android phone connected to Glass and speaks into the phone. The text is then displayed on the screen of the headset (Captioning on Glass n.d.; Cobb 2014; Google Glass App For The Hearing Impaired n.d.). These and other Glass applications can be found at

Privacy Concerns

One of the challenges with the current version of Glass is that users have the ability to perform a variety of functions without the knowledge of others in the vicinity. This raises privacy concerns and makes some non-users as well as privacy advocates uncomfortable with the technology since Glass users have the ability to take photographs and videos without the knowledge or permission of bystanders. Glass also makes it easier for users to multitask and be engaged in activities such as text messaging or checking e-mail while they are attending meetings or talking with others. This creates potential distractions which may prevent users from focusing on a specific task. The Glass Explorer site lists Dos and Don'ts for Glass users based on the experiences of those in the Explorer Program (Explorers n.d.).

Design & Price

The design of Google Glass has also led some to view it as a technology for technology geeks (Scolaro and Morganteen 2015). That, along with a starting price of $1,500, makes it cost prohibitive for most users, including libraries.

How It's Being Used

Despite the high cost of Glass, some sectors including health care and higher education have started to use it. Glass has seen significant use in the medical field. Doctors have used Glass to stream videos of surgeries to other doctors to assist with diagnosis, and to teach medical students. Concerns over patient privacy make security of information imperative for the health care sector. An application such as Beam provides a secure platform which can be used share video, text, images, and location. With Beam, a nurse or other health care professional can take a photograph of a medical condition and share it with their supervisor. The supervisor can then provide feedback and even consult with the patient and the nurse via live video stream. This provides some advantages over Google Hangouts and the native camera and video available on Glass (Schwartz 2014). While Google Hangouts is not the optimal platform for streaming video of surgeries, it has been used. In the article "Inside the Operating Room with Google Glass", Rafael Grossmann, M.D. F.A.C.S., a surgeon and Glass Explorer, explains how he used Glass, Google Hangouts, and his iPad to stream a Gastrostomy procedure (Nostra 2013). Grossman wrote about the experience on his blog and notes that he found the technique to be simple and intuitive and was able to show the patient's abdomen and the endoscopic view through Google Glass (Grossmann 2013).

At the University of California Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine, Google Glass will be incorporated into the classroom experience. UCI is using Pristine EyeSight, a HIPAA compliant video platform optimized for Google Glass in the health care sector (UCI School of Medicine 2014). In addition to ongoing clinical use of Glass in surgery, the emergency room, and intensive care units, Glass will also be integrated into anatomy labs and basic science courses for first and second year students. During basic science classes, Glass will be used to broadcast doctor visits to supplement the lecture. UCI also plans to allow patients to use Glass to allow students to see procedures from the perspective of the patient in hopes of improving bedside manner and producing more empathic doctors (UCI School of Medicine 2014).

Glass is also being used in higher education outside of medicine. An application called The Traveler is being used at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana to allow students to easily document their travels to other countries. Glass allows the students to quickly take and annotate pictures without spending much time aiming or tinkering with a smartphone or camera (Smith 2014). Andrew Vanden Heuvel, an online instructor in Michigan used Glass to create a YouTube channel called STEMbite ( that includes short science videos on a variety of topics including the polarization of light and a virtual tour of the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland (Thompson 2014).

Libraries Exploring Glass

At ALA Midwinter 2014, the American Library Association partnered with Google to allow attendees to try out Glass. A Google representative suggested that Glass could make it easier for library users to find materials by mapping the collection using GPS (Signorelli 2014). Many libraries, including academic libraries, began experimenting with Google Glass as part of the Explorer Program. Jen Waller with Miami University in Ohio was able to purchase Google Glass through the #ifIhadglass contest via Twitter. Waller won with the tweet "#ifihadglass my students and I would show that learning is everywhere. We'd help lead our university redefine higher ed." (Miami U. students 2013). She has presented on using Google to teach students about privacy (Hawkins 2014). During the Spring of 2014, the Claremont Colleges Library allowed students, faculty, and staff to submit proposals stating how they would use Glass. If selected, users had the opportunity to use Glass for up to five days (Google Glass @ the Claremont 2014). Similarly, Yale University Library partnered with the Instructional Technology Group and the Student Technology Collaborative at Yale University to allow students to check out the device from the Library (Patrick 2014).


Wearables and Google Glass are continuing to evolve. The Explorer Program allowed users and Google to test out a new way of interacting with the world through technology. The next version of Glass will likely be very different from the initial release. While several libraries are experimenting with Glass, a lower price point and a less futuristic design will help increase adoption.

Additional Reading


Captioning on Glass. n.d. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Cobb, A. 2014. Real-time captioning comes to Google Glass. TalkAndroid. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Explorers. n.d. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Google Glass @ the Claremont Colleges Library. 2014 [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Google Glass App For The Hearing Impaired. n.d. [Internet] Alejandro Rioja. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Grossmann, R. 2013. "OK Glass: hand me the scalpel, please..." GoogleGlass during surgery! @ZGJR Blog. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Hawkins, D. 2014. Library Services and Google Glass [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 March 6]. Available from:

Heine, C. and Thielman, S. 2013. Why brands are already looking at Google Glass, and why Apple should be worried. Adweek. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Liedtke, M. 2015. Google Glass sales to be halted as company goes back to the drawing board (+video). Christian Science Monitor [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Miami U. students get to try Google Glass. 2013. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Miller, J. 2014. Seven Google Glass apps that go beyond the geek. BBC New Technology. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 March 6]. Available from:

Nostra, J. 2013. Inside the operating room with Google Glass. Forbes. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Park, S., Chung, K., & Jayaraman, S. 2014. Wearables: Fundamentals, Advancements, and a Roadmap for the Future. In: Sazonov, E. & Neuman, M.R., editors. Wearable Sensors: Fundamentals, Implementation and Applications. Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology. San Diego (CA): Academic Press, p. 1.

Patrick, A. 2014. Google Glass available for faculty and student groups during spring semester. Yale University Library News [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Schwartz, A. 2014. A Google Glass app For doctors to stream video of patients to consult other doctors. Co.EXIST. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Scolaro, C.M. and Morganteen, J. 2015. Next Google Glass iteration has tough road ahead. CNBC. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Signorelli, P. 2014. OK, Glass. American Libraries Magazine [Internet]. 2014 [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Smith, D.F. 2014. 5 Google Glass innovations happening in higher ed. EdTech. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Souppouris, A. 2013. Google expands Glass pre-orders "creative individuals" with #ifihadglass competition. The Verge. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Tehrani, K. and Michael, A. 2014. Wearable technology and wearable devices: everything you need to know wearable devices. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

Thompson, A. 2014. Google Glass in education. TechFaster [Internet]. [Cited 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

UCI School of Medicine first to integrate Google Glass into curriculum. 2014. UCI News. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

We're graduating from Google[x] labs. n.d. [Internet]. [Accessed 2015 Feb 3]. Available from:

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