How Google Glass Will Change Travel…For Better and For Worse

Smartglasses Travel Pros and ConsGoogle Glass, those high-tech smartphone-esque glasses that will make us all look even more like zombified members of the Borg than we already do, will be available to the general public at some point in 2014. Some people can hardly wait for Google Glass to arrive. Other people cringe just hearing the name. Will Google Glass see wide adoption? Will it add yet another excuse to never disconnect from the Internet in general and social media in particular? Will it trigger another seismic culture shift in the way that smartphones did a few years ago?

These questions remain to be answered, but if Google has its way, the answers will be “Yes,” “Yes,” and “Yes.” Google thinks that Glass will soon become an indispensable part of our lives, just as cell phones and then smartphones did a few years ago. According to Google, Glass will connect us to our world and to each other in ways that we never thought possible before. Recording pictures and videos of our experiences are just the beginning of what Glass can do. We’ll be able to use it in essentially the way that we do a smartphone, except this will be a computer that’s so close to us that we’ll be able to see it and talk to it without moving our hands or even our heads. The only way a computer could get closer to us than Google Glass would be if it was implanted inside our skulls — no doubt Larry Page and Sergey Brin have that planned already for future Glass upgrades.

There’s one part of our lives in particular where Google predicts we will eventually find Google Glass essential: travel. We already use our smartphones in all sorts of ways when we travel; we use them to help us find restaurants, to help us navigate unfamiliar cities, to rent cars, to check onto our planes and so on. Google Glass will be able to do all of the things a smartphone can do to help us travel, but it will also be able to do much more. Here’s a closer look at both the pros and the cons to using Google Glass when it comes to travel and to the rest of our lives.

The Advantages to Wearing Those Crazy-Looking Glasses When Traveling

1. A new Field Trip app is being customized for Glass.

Google recently redesigned the Field Trip app for Glass. Imagine that you’re a tourist wandering around New York City. As you look at a particular feature of the city with the high-tech glasses, you’ll be able to see certain information about what you’re looking at. For example, you might look up at the Empire State Building. The glasses will recognize the building and start feeding you facts about it, such as when it was built or how many stories it has. If you get hungry as you walk the streets of the Big Apple, all you need to do is look at a restaurant and Field Trip will offer you reviews. You can scroll through the information with your eyes, or you can have the information read into your headset. If you want more information, you simply talk to Glass, like you would talk to Siri, and ask whatever questions occur to you.

This “augmented reality” aspect to Glass is part of what sets it apart from smartphones. Yes, you can find restaurant reviews or learn when the Empire State Building was built with an iPhone, but with Glass, you won’t even have to stop what you’re doing to punch a question into your smartphone; all you need to do is look at an object and Glass will be able to tell you about it.

Although you might feel awkwardly disconnected from the people around you when using the Google Glass Field Trip app while with your family through New York City on vacation, the Glass Field Trip app is perfect for the solo traveler going to a new city for the first time. It’s possible to imagine a businessman in town for just a few days, for example, using the Glass Field Trip app to quickly find the perfect place to eat after a long day of meetings. Likewise, Field Trip for Glass will allow individuals and groups to create their own “walking tours” of cities and famous landmarks. Say “good-bye” to guidebooks; say “hello” to Google Glass.

2. Glass has tremendous social media potential.

It used to be that we were unreachable during our vacation time. We left our phones behind, because our phones were all connected to land lines. We left our computers behind, because our computers were hefty things that we only moved when we left one home to move into another. We also left a message on our voicemail at work that informed our clients and customers that we’d be out for a week or two.

All of that has completely changed.

Not only do we not disconnect while on vacation anymore, some of us stay even more connected while we’re out-of-town than when we’re in town. From exotic locales, we take pictures of ourselves, our meals, our friends and our surroundings and immediately post them to Facebook, Google+, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

One fact that Google discovered from the 8,000 people who already have Glass is that people love using the device to take pictures and instantly send them to their friends. Google anticipates that Glass will become as ubiquitous on our vacations as our picture and video-taking smartphones are today.

3. Insurance companies might use Glass to decide how to charge drivers.

While a tourist on a road trip around the country might use Glass for its navigation abilities and to take pictures from the driver’s seat, insurance companies are thinking about Glass in more practical ways when it comes to how we travel: They want to see if they can use Glass to assess our driving skills and adjust our rates accordingly.

Wichita State University professor Jibo He used to work for State Farm and has spent most of his career studying driver fatigue. He thinks he can use Glass to save drivers’ lives. His interest isn’t just humanitarian; it’s also financial. When someone dies in an auto accident, insurance companies shell out as much as $100,000. If Jibo He can figure out a way to use Glass to alert drivers to dangerous levels of fatigue and thereby save lives, he thinks he’ll be able to help insurance companies save lots of money.

4. Expect Google Glass to help you check in and board your flight.

Both passengers and airline companies alike might be using Google Glass in the future to make air travel smoother. For starters, Google Glass can already provide passengers with real-time flight information. In one hands-free glance, passengers will be able to see whether or not their flight is delayed, where the gate is and when they’ll be boarding. In the future, the check-in apps that airlines have already made for smartphones will probably start showing up on Glass, too.

Airlines, meanwhile, also see potential uses for Glass from a customer service point-of-view. Flight attendants could use Glass to view the entire flight roster, seat assignments, special meal requests, other special needs and so forth. They’ll be able to do all this while still keeping their hands free to pour drinks, serve meals and push carts.

Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room

Despite all the potential uses of Google Glass for travel and other applications, an important question still remains: Will Google Glass truly catch on?

Granted, there are some future Glass owners who will buy the devices simply because they are the latest, coolest gadget on the market. Others might buy Google Glass devices because they belong to the generations in which staying connected to electronic gadgetry is as commonplace and socially acceptable as watching TV.

There are lots of consumers, however, who are viscerally opposed to Google Glass. They’re not opposed only because Google Glass is going to make us look a little dorky; their opposition is much deeper and more personal than that. They have concerns that Google Glass will take us one step closer to some sort of Brave New World or 1984 dystopian future, in which a combination of technology and oppressive ideology will steal our freedoms, our privacy and our ability to think for ourselves. Here are a few disadvantages of Google Glass, as these naysayers see it, where the devices are related to travel.

1. If you thought distracted driving was bad before, just wait until Glass comes out.

We’re not supposed to punch in addresses into our GPS systems when we drive, but many of us do anyway. We’re also not supposed to text when we drive, but many of us do that from time to time, too. Research has shown that we really shouldn’t talk on the phone when we drive, even with a hands-free device, but most of us pretty much ignore that research.

Some leery lawmakers are already preparing to ban the use of Google Glass while driving. In the United Kingdom, for example, lawmakers are already preparing to ban the use of Glass while driving. In West Virginia, the same thing is happening.

However, not everyone is so sure that Glass and driving don’t mix. Chris Barrett, one of Google’s 8,000 “Glass Explorers,” thinks that Glass will prove to be an excellent safety innovation. His argument is this: People are not going to stop using their phones while they drive no matter what kinds of laws and fines are created. Smartphones mean that being connected while driving is here to stay. Given that, at least according to Barrett, this point is a fact, Google Glass is an all-in-one hands-free device that will truly allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road. Barrett has published videos of himself driving with Glass on to show just how undistracted he is while wearing Glass.

The company INRIX has also posted video of driving with Glass. INRIX has already developed a navigation app that will allow users to choose routes, share their anticipated arrival time with friends and alert other drivers to road hazards, all without their hands ever leaving the steering wheel or their eyes ever leaving the road.

Will lawmakers win this battle over distracted driving and Google Glass, or will people like Chris Barrett and companies like INRIX? The jury is still out on the possible drawbacks to using Glass while driving.

2. Pay-per-gaze has already started.

Google makes its money principally by selling ads. While it appears to give consumers many services for free, these services are also producing ad revenue. In Gmail, for example, it’s not unusual to see an ad that has picked up on some wording from the email you’re reading.

To sell ads in Google Glass, Google has created a technology called “pay-per-gaze.” When consumers look at an ad displayed in Glass, advertisers will be charged “per gaze.” Although using an app like Field Trip while in an unfamiliar city might seem incredibly convenient, how long will it be before Glass users are hit up with location-specific ads everywhere they go?

Walking through the airport food court? “Go eat at Atlanta Bread!” your Glass device might tell you. Walking through New York City? “Buy tickets for a Broadway show!” Furthermore, how long will it take for Google Glass text ads to evolve into video ads? Just getting near a movie theater while wearing Glass might create an unwanted trigger for movie trailers; drive past a car dealership and you might suddenly find yourself unwillingly watching a used car salesman’s commercial.

3. Some destinations are already off-limits to Glass.

Perhaps your next vacation will be in Las Vegas. If it is, don’t get your hopes up for wearing Glass into a casino, strip joint or certain bars. Due to privacy and security issues, Glass has already been banned by some types of establishments.

Slyly taking pictures of strippers in Las Vegas, however, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the privacy and security concerns that Glass devices raise. Imagine what could happen, whether you’re traveling or whether you’re at home, if your Glass device gets hacked. The hacker will be able to watch your entire world through your eyes. Whether it’s what room number you have in a hotel, what your credit card number is or how much money is in your wallet, a hacker will have instant access to whatever information you have gleaned about yourself, your family members and environment with your eyes.

It’s not just the criminal hackers we have to worry about, either, privacy advocates say. We’ve already learned that we can’t trust government agencies, like the NSA, around our mobile phones; will we be able to stop the government — our own or others — from tapping into our Glass devices as well?

Conclusion… Or Just the Beginning?

It will still be a while before the rest of us get to try out the device that the 8,000 Glass Explorers already have. Perhaps Google Glass will be the next natural step after smartphones for enhancing our travel and vacation experiences. Perhaps we will use them for traveling both in the ways mentioned above and in ways we haven’t even dreamed up yet.

Smartphone Zombie Apocalypse

On the other hand, the controversy surrounding Glass is really just getting warmed up. For some people, accepting the ubiquity of smartphones has been a stretch; just look at photos and videos already out there proclaiming the onset of the “smartphone zombie apocalypse.” There’s a very good possibility that Google Glass will make us even more dependent upon and addicted to our electronic devices than we already were. Yes, we’ll have instant access to information, media and people all the time, right in our field of vision, but is that a good thing or a bad thing?

That question remains unresolved and its answer largely depends upon who you ask. At any rate, Google Glass is coming whether you approve of it or not; it’s time to get ready.

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