Google Glass still might be a crazy bananas gizmo that does little that lets you watch yourself have sex or get yourself written traffic tickets (dismissed traffic tickets), but it also does some pretty cool stuff too. Like help fire fighters put out flames and rescue people. No matter what you think of the Google Bus, you have to admit: that's kind of cool.
We recently talked to Patrick Jackson, the Rocky Mount, North Carolina firefighter who in his spare time, wrote a piece of Glassware that allows emergency responders to receive distress calls, display building floor plans, locate fire hydrants, and even see the diagram of a car before cutting it open to free.
San Francisco: For folks you haven't seen the video, could you just walk us through what it does?
Patrick Jackson: When a person calls 911, the firefighter's Glass shows the address of the emergency, the type, and a map. Further information can be accessed by tapping on Glass and notes that the 911 dispatcher types into their console are displayed. This often comes to Glass before the call is dispatched over the radio—sometimes as much as 30 to 60 seconds.
You seem like you have a pretty teched up crew.
Google Glass is the latest device we are using in Rocky Mount. We also get this information on Android and iOS phones and tablets. We even have an iPad on every front-line engine. The other Glass function that is currently working is 'Find a hydrant.' I can say 'OK Glass... Find a hydrant' and it will locate the closest hydrant, using a GPS receiver in a phone or tablet paired with the Glass. The user is then displayed an arrow of which way to face and the distance to the hydrant. Other functions planned are floorplans, building info, and vehicle diagrams that show safe places for firefighters to cut cars with the jaws of life.
We don't often hear about firefighters who are also programmers.
Firefighters have always created tools. As a kid, I did some basic computer programming and I took college level computer science classes in High School. I attended NC State University for about year for computer engineering but decided to transfer to UNCA and major in Environmental Policy and Management. I really didn't touch computers for about 10 years. That changed four years ago when I got an Android smart phone. Since then I have come a long way.
You wrote most of the program without having a pair of Glass. How did that go?
Yes, I wrote the incident notification part before having Glass. Google has designed Glass with a really great, developer friendly API called the Mirror API. Because I had an existing app on Google App Engine integrated with our dispatch center it only took a couple of days to get Glass up and running. It is completely restful-based (web based) and Google has made a web interface where you can view the 'cards' that are your 'timeline'. When you log into a Glass with your Google account the timeline on that Glass syncs with the timeline in the cloud. So when I picked up my first Glass in NYC it was already working and had a history of calls from RMFD in the timeline. The more involved functions such as 'find a hydrant' require native Glass programming using the Glass Development Kit. Glass runs Android so I was right at home programming for it.
Have you used it in the field yet?
Often. I wear it around the station, so when I get alerted I see where the call is and what type of call. I'll then wear it to the incident. Once arriving at the fire or medical call I usually take it off and leave it in the truck. My duties usually require where a SCBA mask and Glass does not fit inside of the mask. I am still in the 'explorer' phase.
What's the reaction from other fire departments been?
Hugely positive. There are other Glass explorers that are firefighters who want to beta test this app already. Also, FDNY has a R&D unit that is very interested in possibilities of Glass in the fire service. I have been in contact with them and are discussing possible uses of Glass.
What else have do you use your Glass for? We've seen everything from programs that automatically translate road signs written in foreign languages to sex apps.
No sex apps here. The killer app for me is navigation while driving, which I know is controversial. To me it is the best way to navigate in a place you are not familiar with. Also, I use it for messaging via hangouts, SMS, and email. Glass is also great for pics and videos with my children. It is hard to get them to look at a camera and smile, but Glass gives a natural personal perspective that is really special.
Are you going to turn this into a startup?
I'm still deciding whether to bootstrap the company without any or just small funding, or to look for angel investors. But, I am very close to being able to offer this as a monthly subscription service.