Company Experiments with Google Glass for First Responders
Of the privileged few who received the new Google Glass wearable computer prototype this year, one was MutuaLink, a Wallingford, Conn.-based company that specializes in communication systems for first responders and the military.
Mike Wengrovitz, vice president of innovation at the company, said he was attending a training exercise where police were using the MutuaLink systems and a handheld view screen during a school-shooter scenario. The device worked well, but it was cumbersome.
The real-rime information the police were seeing on the screen was “very valuable, but so are your hands,” he said.
When the company learned of Google’s “If I Had Glass” program, which offered up the new wearable device to a limited number of users, it applied and received a pair in the mail.
“You need your hands when you are delivering First Aid or putting out a fire, or dealing with a school shooting,” he said.
The company spent a couple weeks learning how to use the system and linking it to its Interoperable Response and Preparedness Platform product, which allows any entity to join a communication network through the Internet no matter what kind of device they are using.
It brought Glass to a recent trade show where it let members of the first responder community see how it works.
In the demonstration, they linked to cameras in a school and displayed the video in real time on the Glass view screen, along with the building’s blueprints.
In a mock command-and-control center, someone annotated the map by circling points of interest, or drawing arrows to tell the user which way to go. Those two applications, plus two-way voice, were the only features MutuaLink has integrated onto the system so far.
Glass does come with a video camera, but there are many wearable cameras on the market already, so it was decided to put that off for the time being, Wengrovitz said. However, the ability for an incident commander to view what someone in a building is seeing, would be useful, he added.
Next, the company has to wait to see what Google plans to do with the product. Wengrovitz believed the company may release a new, improved version next year.
Meanwhile, Google is not asking for users to return the prototypes, so the company can continue to tinker with the pair it has.
“We don’t have a group of glasses yet but we are already thinking of how to do it for groups where there is a team or squad,” he said.
“We have lots of other ideas of how it can be used with our existing system, but we only have one pair. So we are being careful to use it and apply it in the most innovative ways.”
MutuaLink, for its part, will be sending Google its feedback.
Joe Mazzarella, MutuaLink senior vice president, said the company does have some suggestions.
The sound, which is transmitted to the user through vibrations in the head’s bones, and the microphone is just “OK,” he said.
“When you move into loud environments, especially when thinking about military or public safety, the question is whether that is going to be suitable,” he said.
The current screen is at the upper right hand corner of the user’s peripheral vision. A bi-focal approach looking downwards might be better, he said.
The system would also have to be ruggedized for military and first responder users, he said.
“I expect it to get increasingly better over time,” he said.
Wengrovitz added: “Our customers are interested and excited about this. We are looking forward to the next steps on Glass and wearables in general.”