Google Glass: funny looking, hard to use at first, but this is the future of oil & gas technology

It’s now been a few days since I received Google Glass, so as I promised in my last post I’m ready to give some early hands-on impressions.  Specifically, I’ll give some general impressions from a consumer’s point of view, then focus on how this technology relates to the oil & gas industry, as well as some shortcomings as I see them that could prevent near-term adoption in this field.

The first thing you’ll notice when you receive the unit is just how well packaged it is.  Google clearly took a page out of Apple’s playbook here:  the two boxes (one containing your chosen lens attachment, and the other containing the unit and accessories) are a smooth, white color, and have a very satin feel to the touch.

Both boxes feel very sturdy and substantial when you pick them up.  The construction of the Glass-containing box is so tight that every time you open it you’ll feel a slight suction downwards, and then a feeling of the top part of the box “gliding over” the bottom one.   It’s very satisfying, and it’s nice to see that Google is putting a lot of thought into making this an attractive looking package.

Is the unit itself attractive?

Well…here are two data points for you.  When I had the unit on my face and hooked up to my laptop through a USB cable for programming, my girlfriend walked in and said “you look like you’re about to play Counterstrike”.

Then, yesterday I went to a Meetup group for Glass developers, and about half the attendees were wearing Glass; I’m not comfortable enough yet with taking the risk of leaving my place with the unit, so from “the outside looking in”, I can tell you…the Glass-wearing crowd looked pretty goofy, honestly.  We’re all early adopters, I’m on the same level they are in terms of enthusiasm for the device, and yet I had to stifle a laugh when I first saw them!

So…you won’t go unnoticed when you wear it, but more because it looks like something out of Star Trek than GQ.

With that out of the way, here’s the big question:  “how does it actually function, and how intuitive is it?”

The “how” part you can Google quite easily (many publications have already written about this device generally), so very quickly I’ll let you know my personal thoughts on climbing the learning curve.  What I found very difficult was (and still is) that you only see one thing at a time.  Imagine a “corn maze”:  when you’re in the maze, you just see what’s in front of you, so it’s very hard to know where you are and find your way out.  But, if you could somehow see yourself and the maze from a top down perspective, it would be very easy to escape the maze.

With Glass, because you only see one item/time line card at a time, it’s very hard to know where you are in relation to everything else.  With a smartphone, you can always just hit the “home” button, and from there get a top down view of all your icons.  With Glass, I almost had to memorize where everything was as well as the sequence of swipes and taps I had to do to get there.

To recap so far:  it’s not particularly attractive, and it’s somewhat difficult to get used to.

You’re probably thinking to yourself:  “how could this possibly work in the consumer space, let alone a highly specialized field such as oil & gas”.

Make no mistake though:  this is the future.  Yes, it looks clunky now, but didn’t cell phones when they first came out?

With regards to how it looks, that’s completely secondary for professionals who will use this in the oil & gas industry.  When has form ever mattered really…I mean, have you seen how a pair of coveralls fits?  Hardly flattering, and let’s just say I don’t see hard hats becoming the next big thing on the runway either.  And yet, they’re well adapted to their functions, so form doesn’t matter.

The thing is, once you get over the learning curve and start using it, you immediately think:  “wow, what if it could do this, then this, then this…”  The possibilities are really endless.

So what do I see as some potential hurdles to adoption of this technology in oil & gas?

In my last column I already mentioned that the small screen could make it hard to display useful information in an organized way if designers don’t understand the peculiarities of developing for this format.

The next issue I see is a physical one.  As I mentioned above, there is a lot of swiping and tapping required to get around the menus.  If this device works like the iPhone, it’s likely that you either need a skin/device contact, or special gloves that are recognized by the device and designed for touch interfaces.  If Glass falls into this category, the voice commands are going to have to be intuitive and robust, because it’s neither practical nor safe to take work gloves on and off continuously when you’re, say, working on the rig floor.  Furthermore, even if the device worked with bare or gloved hands, both can get wet and dirty, so there’s no telling how a touch pad would respond after it’s acquired a coating of pipe dope!

The screen also isn’t particularly bright in low light, so if you’re trying to use this on a dark location while, say, getting ready for a service job, you may have some difficulties.

All of these things are minor though.  This is the future, and you WILL see this or some offshoot used industrially in oil & gas, just as it’s now common to see smartphones and some tablets on a rig site.

As for where I am on development, things are moving slowly but surely.  It took about five or six hours over two days just to get Glass talking to my laptop (the downside of getting in early is there is a lot of guessing involved, and most of the “documentation” is found in fragmented message board posts that other frustrated users have created), but it works now and I’ve even got the voice control programmed!

I say my command and then…the program crashes.

Hopefully I’ll have that fixed soon, at which point I’ll come back to you with a nice, oil & gas specific use-case.