Google Glass: The Holy Grail of Public Transport?

Although Google Glass has been ridiculed as too geeky (or even disturbing) and taken off the market by Google earlier this year (although probably not for good), I think it is worth considering what benefits we could get from it, or a similar technology.

In public transport, the competition is often the private car. The car takes you from door to door, without risky connections, and in case of disruptions, excellent navigation systems (or Google) tells the driver what to do. This makes the driver feel in control (even if caught in congestion).

Many efforts have been made to employ IT to try to provide the users of public transport with the same help. First came the intermodal travel planners (like the successful Danish Rejseplanen), which are really useful before embarking on the trip. But the cognitive effort is still with the human, which needs to handle disruptions. With the advent of smart phones and apps, hopes were high that this would provide users with the travel companion, linking everything together, creating the seamless journey and helping with disruptions. But this has not happened. Instead we have seen a flurry of individual apps that the user then has to navigate across. This has been exacerbated by the many new sharing economy mobility options that links to public transport (bike sharing, car sharing, ride sharing, …), each coming with its app too.

While we now start seeing the emergence of mobility service providers trying to link it all together (e.g. Quixxit under Deutsche Bahn), I think the crucial point still will be the user interface. Even if ‘the one app’ is developed, it will still require significant efforts from the user. Particularly when navigating on new journeys or managing disruptions.

But about the same time as Google Glass was taken off the market by Google, I came to think whether it could become the ‘Holy Grail’ of connecting (public) transport modes? In the concept video accompanying the launch there were indeed demonstrated several way-finding uses. And apps to provide travel information have been developed for public transport. But it was kind of the same as apps on a smart phone – just shown on a heads-up display.

But what if we take it a bit further? Imagine the following two travel scenarios: An occasional trip and a commuter trip with disruption (sorry for not having the graphical skills to mash up some cool images to illustrate):

A trip from Copenhagen to Aarhus

Me: OK Glass, I need to get to the Mathematics Department in Aarhus tomorrow at 11am.

Glass: I have booked your journey. Weather is fine, so according to your preferences you will go by walk, metro, train and bike-share. You need to leave home at 7.45 am. I will remind you 15 min before you have to leave.

Glass: You will need to leave in 15 min. I’ll wait outside.

As I leave the house, my ‘Mobility Man’ avatar greets me and start walking 5 steps ahead of me, so I can follow without thinking. I know my way to the metro though, so tells Glass to meet me at the Metro station.

Mobility Man meets me at the metro station; we board the train and ride along.

Mobility Man walks to the door as we have to get off at Nørreport Station. I follow him out, up and down the stairs to the train platform.

Glass: I have booked you window seat 54 in wagon 21. I’ll show you.

Me: Yes, please.

When the train arrives, Mobility Man finds and enters wagon 21, walks to seat 54 and waits for me. I follow him, sit down at my seat and put Glass to sleep.

Glass: We’re in Aarhus in 10 minutes, on time. From there we’ll take a bike-share.

Me: OK.

When the train stops, Mobility Man emerges again. I follow him out of the train, through the station and to the bike-share station outside. He has stopped at the bike that is reserved for me, and (the Google Glass app) has unlocked it as I arrive.

He runs along, towards the University and I follow. He stops at the bike-share station close by the Mathematics Department, and we walk the last few 200 meter.

 

A commuter trip from Frederiksberg to Ørestaden

When not biking, I take the metro from home (Forum station) to work (Ørestaden station). In normal situations, this does not require help. But a disruption could happen:

Glass: This train will not go all the way to Ørestaden. I suggest to get off at Islands Brygge station and take bus no. 14.

Me: OK.

At Islands Brygge, Mobility Man gets off. I follow him to the bus stop, as I haven’t been here before. We enter the bus, gets off close to Ørestad station and walks the rest of the way together.

When will these scenarios become possible? Soon, I think. Will it be spooky? Perhaps. Will it be helpful? For sure. At least it can help me remember to perform check out on my Rejsekort…)

Any Google Glass developers out there?

Disclaimer: I have actually never tried out Google Glass, or similar. But guess I will someday…