OAKLAND, Calif. — Google Glass, not long ago a laughing stock of the tech world, has been reinvented as a hot new accessory for doctors and patients.
The pricey, web-connected eyewear computer, sold to consumers on a limited basis by the Silicon Valley titan from 2013 through early 2015, briefly seemed to be the next big thing until privacy and safety concerns caused Google to yank it off the market.
Questions had arisen about the wisdom of driving or operating potentially dangerous tools while using a device that projects images and text into your field of vision. Another problem: Most people didn’t like being gazed at through a geeky visual prosthetic. Early adopters were widely referred to as “glassholes” amid fears that they might be surreptitiously recording anyone around them.
In the ultimate indignity, Glass was enshrined in Sweden’s Museum of Failure.
But Glass recently has been resurrected, by Google’s corporate sibling X, in a new “enterprise edition” as a tool for a range of commercial environments — including health care. Here are the most promising medical innovators so far:
Augmedix: nudging doctors to look up from their screens
Doctors love to complain that cumbersome electronic health record systems keep them fixated on their screens when they should be talking with a patient.
With Glass, doctors can view charts in real time through the eyeglass viewer, while interacting face-to-face with their patients. They can also update the records with verbal commands, which can cut their data entry time. In theory, then, this system — developed by the startup Augmedix — lets doctors spend more time actually delivering care.
Augmedix, which is based in San Francisco, has secured $17 million in funding from several health care systems, including Sutter Health and Dignity Health. The company says doctors and health systems in 30 states are using its product.
Aira: narrating the world for the visually impaired
Glass doesn’t seem like an obvious tool for people who are blind or have low vision, but this firm uses the eyewear to connect visually impaired clients to personal assistants. Those assistants are able to see a picture of what’s in front of the customer. They then narrate the landscape, helping the customer in real time with tasks such as street navigation, facial recognition, and shopping.
During the recent solar eclipse, Aira’s assistants offered a “view” of the eclipse by narrating what users would have seen if they had full vision. Visually impaired users heard the description as they felt the temperature change and listened to the thrilled murmurs of other viewers around them.
The company, based in La Jolla, Calif., recently closed a $12 million funding round. Investors include the National Federation of the Blind.
Hodei Technology: giving rural doctors a helping hand
Remote health care practitioners often need to consult with far-off experts, but traditional video conference setups can be cumbersome. Hodei Technology’s Glass product lets remote consultants see exactly what the local physician is seeing during patient visits or even during surgery.
Hodei, based in Indianapolis, aims to get the technology adopted not just in rural health settings, but in prisons, nursing homes, and even in individual patients’ homes to connect their family members with distant experts who could offer advice when questions arise.
Brain Power: coaching kids with autism to interact
Kids on the autism spectrum often have trouble connecting with others because they misread facial and emotional cues. Brain Power uses Glass to pop images into the visual path, gently pushing children to make eye contact with people they encounter.
The product displays simple games to foster emotional intelligence. For example, when a person smiles, a Glass image shows a cartoon happy face on one side and a sad face on other, then asks the child to choose which emotion the real person is conveying.
The company, which has offices in both Cambridge, Mass., and San Francisco, says its approach has helped autistic children learn to understand the emotional meaning of everyday interactions and then offer an appropriate response.
Researchers at Stanford are working on a clinical trial to test a similar behavior-therapy system.