My Adventure Hike with Google Glass


Earlier this month, Roundarch Isobar was kind enough to let me “test drive” their brand new Google Glass over the weekend. As an agency, we’re focused on creating effective interactive solutions for our clients, and helping our clients stay on the cutting edge of technology, especially in the wearable tech field. So, my goal, besides just having fun, was to understand what new and cool experiences are possible with Google Glass, and ponder the future of wearable tech. With any new technology or interface, it’s critical to take it out first hand, to really understand the limitations and possibilities, so I decided take Glass out into the wild on a half-day hike Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, MA.

Hiking presents a lot of challenges for photography, especially if you’re capturing on the fly. Seems like you’re either smacking boulders with an albatross DSLR around your neck OR bumbling with sweaty fingers on a smartphone while that buck in the sunset bolts off. Google Glass, ready-to-shoot with touch and voice-activated camera, mounted at eye-level on lightweight frames, seemed like an ideal tool to document my odyssey.

Slipping them on in the backseat of the car ride over, I immediately felt excited and a little worried taking these super-primo frames out in the wild. They feel like they should be resting on a pillowcase in a vault somewhere – but having dragged a GoPro through mud and fire at Warrior Dash last summer, I figured Google Glass could handle a hike. So off I went with my friends into the woods, and up a rocky trail. Immediately as we started the tougher more vertical rock section, I realized the Google Glass frames are light and snug enough to the face to stay put… which was a big relief.

Making our descent into the valley after the first peak, I was determined to take some action shots of my hiking friends. The Glass user interface takes some getting used to, but by now, I was confortable tapping the right side to bring up the menu, swiping once to bring up the “take photo” prompt, then confirming with a tap. I did succeed with action shots, but I had to plant myself 10 seconds ahead to allow time for swiping, which was frustrating. My recommendation – Glass desperately needed a continuous shooting mode for action photography, where each tap triggers a photo.

Before long we had climbed another long hill and reached an old stone fort overlooking all of the Boston area. With strong sunlight and stark shadows inside the fort, I decided to test Glass’s performance in variable lighting. I found that in the gloom, Glass needs absolute stillness in order to get a great picture without blurring, which makes sense given the lens’ tiny aperture. However, shooting photos while descending the stone steps in darkness was fun – Glass doesn’t force you to toggle between a camera’s viewfinder and your natural vision, so you feel more natural while moving and snapping pics on difficult terrain. It also doesn’t force you to look at a bright LED screen (like on a smartphone) which can be blinding in the dark.

We’d reached the half point of our hike and I needed to plan our return route.  Glass has great potential as an assistive aid while navigating, so I figured I’d try taking a pictured of huge trail map sign and then pull it up on Glass’s visual display while at a trail intersection, to help me pick the correct direction. In short, it didn’t work. The tiny display screen onboard is low fidelity, with no way to zoom, so there was no way I could discern the fine detail on the trail map I snapped. A better solution would be Google Maps giving audio directions for a planned trail route or simply being able to beam photos to a smartphone over Bluetooth to take a finer look. I guess I was expecting Glass to have an ultra high-res engrossing Ironman-style HUD that would overlay what you’re seeing naturally… but hey, we’re probably not that far off.

In conclusion, Glass was highly enjoyable to document adventure. With some simple firmware changes to enable continuous shooting and ability to beam photos to a companion screen and some sweet apps, Google Glass could be great for casual photography and navigation. Impressively, Glass also has the ability to share what your seeing on your screen with others remotely (using Google Hangout video chat). How cool would it be to use share the live experience of exploring Mayan ruins in Tulum with all your friends while out on vacation? You could even connect other questions about what you are seeing, or let someone help you navigate where to go. With Google Glass the possibilities for connected sharing and guided adventure are endless.