Google's Project Glass could be a really big deal if this YouTube video is any indication. Just think: hands-free mobile Google-based functionality layered over the world that you see. While the glasses are not on the market yet, they would enable the user to enter an augmented reality with a seemingly infinite variety of data information embedded into it.
This development could take the quantified self movement to "a whole new level, says James Beckerman, MD, FACC. "This invites the obvious questions—does quantity mean quality? Does mindfulness become mindnumbing after a while?" Beckerman is a cardiologist who writes for WebMD and works at the Providence St. Vincent Heart Clinic in Portland.
"The video focuses mostly on location-based applications, which could segue into calorie-tracking (both intake and out) and gamification pretty easily," Beckerman says. "But what I think would be most fascinating is some sort of Bluetooth-like communication with other wearable/implanted technology, including heart rhythm, blood pressure and blood sugar. Heart disease and diabetes are so common—I think the potential for helping manage chronic diseases and also communicating this information to healthcare providers is amazing," he adds. "Virtual physician visits, and modified 'exams' are in the future maybe this is one platform!"
|James Beckerman, MD, FACC|
As Beckerman points out, the potential medical applications of such technology could be huge, as it could enable patients and physicians to monitor health conditions or health metrics in real time. On the consumer side: What if they could scan the food you eat and keep track of your caloric consumption?
As Daniel Kraft, MD, has suggested, augmented reality also could do for the human body what systems like OnStar have done for cars. Instead of a check-engine light found in automobiles, the augmented reality system could have a check-body light indicating that it is time to see a doctor.
Diabetics could be alerted in real-time what their blood glucose level is. Or patients with heart arrhythmia could be alerted when their heart rate is becoming abnormal. The technology could take the Quantified Self movement to the next level to help tie together various strands of data related to health and wellness.
On the physician side, imagine physicians using such technology to help diagnose conditions or help guide physicians through new or difficult procedures. The technology could enable them to track and organize patient data. What if the glasses could be used in conjunction with something like Watson to enable physicians to scour through the latest research on a given condition, making recommendations on which approaches are most likely to be successful? Technology has already been developed that enables doctors to see endoscopic images through eyeglasses.
Google's glasses could also be disruptive in the area of med-school education, where the technology helps bridge the gap between the seemingly theoretical anatomical information they learn with the real world. For instance, med school students could help reinforce students' anatomical education in the cadaver lab.
As a PC World article from 2009 points out, there are also some slightly scary privacy implications in this as well. What if, when wearing the glasses, you could simply look at someone and know their name and their personal history?
The project is the brainchild of Google(x), the secretive lab for Google works to bring the future to the present. The project is already years in the making and is partly based on the thinking of Babak Amir Parviz, a professor at the University of Washington and Steve Lee, who was previously a Google location manager.
Brian Buntz is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.