Urban Studies fieldtrip: Google Glass ‘in the wild’

“OK Glass – direct me to coffee”

The end of day 3 of the Urban Studies fieldtrip – we’re in Kuala Lumpur, it’s hot and humid, and we are encouraging the students to use Google Glass and handheld video equipment to gather impressionistic street-level data in the different quarters (Chinese, Malay, Anglo, Arabic) in the city.


En route from Pittsburgh to KL, I did some more testing of Glass, where several long layovers encouraged experimentation. In Hong Kong airport for example, I hooked into the wifi network and was able to ask “OK Glass, direct me to a coffee shop” – and it did, serving up a map of the internals of the Terminal, giving walking directions to a cafe. Most impressive. But in Singapore airport (the vast and impressive Changi airport), the free wifi was offered through an intermediate page, and required a large amount of fiddling with settings on my Android phone: turning it into a wifi hotspot didn’t work, but throughput of data from the phone via Bluetooth was possible, but slow, and I never got it working satisfactorily.

Tantalising, frustrating. When it works, it works beautifully – having walked around Oakland in Pittsburgh, an information-rich environment presents itself, and the possibilities for augmented reality walking tours, or heritage trails, or enhanced field trips for students, and a bunch of other potential use-cases spring effortlessly to mind. But the limitations of not being able to have data at other times because of arbitrary reasons (you know, cafés that require logging on through an intermediary page) mean that it’s hit and miss.

KL has a relatively high-speed mobile data network which my phone uses all the time, coverage is pretty good in the city as you would expect. But Glass can’t hook into that directly, of course. Perhaps the next generation of Glass will.

It looks like I’ll be writing an entry in the Journal of Geography in Higher Education about all this. The Urban Studies students, like myself in fact, were initially excited by the possibilities, but the limitations in the field (now we are actually doing fieldwork) are frustrating them as well, I think.


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