'Explorers' test Google Glass before it goes on sale

  • Article by: CAROL M. OSTROM , Seattle Times
  • Updated: December 3, 2013 - 6:01 PM

About 8,000 people are “exploring” Google Glass before it goes on sale. For one surgeon, it’s been eye-opening.

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Dr. Heather Evans of Seattle tested Google Glass while performing surgery. She wore the device only briefly, and with the patient’s permission.

Photo: KEN LAMBERT • Seattle Times,

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When Dr. Heather Evans, a trauma surgeon at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, stepped into the operating room wearing an eyeglasses-like, Internet-connected device known as Google Glass, she quickly realized its potential and its pitfalls.

With Glass, if she was in the middle of surgery and encountered an unexpected or unfamiliar condition — a rare tumor, say — she could use real-time video to show it to the world’s expert and receive help.

With Glass’ eye-level screen, which projects information right onto the wearer’s retina, she could instantly see relevant parts of a patient’s chart or get lab results.

And she would never have to put down her surgical instruments or turn away from her patient on the operating table.

As a teacher, she could have her students wear Glass and see through their eyes just where they were having trouble as they learned a difficult procedure — putting in a large, intravenous catheter known as a “central line,” for example.

Evans is one of about 8,000 people nationwide selected by Google as “explorers,” testing and experimenting with uses for Glass, expected to be available for sale next year.

Tweet was a winner

Like her fellow surgeon/explorers, Evans won the chance to spend $1,500 on the device by penning a winning tweet early this year, finishing the phrase: ifihadglass …

With a computer in the earpiece, and a tiny, eye-level rectangle that can project text, maps and other information to the wearer’s eye, Glass responds to voice commands and can take pictures, stream videos, make phone calls and do other tasks.

Think of it as a smartphone, wearable video camera and computer rolled into one, with the ability to “see” — and instantly transmit — almost precisely what the wearer is seeing.

Like other surgeons, Evans is excited about the potential of this new device. But she also has learned that Glass has technical issues that, for now, make it less than ideal in the operating room, as well as difficult privacy concerns.

Privacy concerns

Some arise because of complex federal privacy laws, which govern the transmission of patient information, including photographs or videos. Other privacy issues come up just from wearing Glass.

If she wore Glass while walking down a hospital hallway, Evans said, she could be accused of violating privacy.

Glass has particularly prickled privacy advocates, even earning its own Urban Dictionary epithet — “Glasshole” — for those who flaunt their early access, wear Glass into private spaces such as restrooms or instruct the device — “OK, Glass, take a video” — in public.

Despite such concerns, Evans had some specific tasks for Glass in mind when she applied to be an early explorer.

To win her spot, she linked to a YouTube video showing an event rarely caught on camera: a man’s heart attack and resuscitation. A BBC crew, shooting a documentary on an emergency helicopter service, had just arrived at its office when the dispatcher suddenly slumped.

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