Google Glass shows promise for hands-free remote service and training precision employees, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all platform.

Troubleshooting technology problems is the primary part of a precision farming specialist’s job, and solutions often require an on-farm visit.

But what if specialists could remotely get a detailed real time, point of view perspective to help diagnose precision problems?

A small, but growing number of ag industry professionals have tried the experimental Google Glass technology — a futuristic looking pair of safety goggles with a built-in computer — that lets users snap photos, shoot video and email information with a simple set of voice commands.

“Precision technicians are mobile, so imagine being able to remotely work hands-free to help a customer solve a problem with their display or planter system,” says Bruce Rasa, owner of TekWear LLC, based in Buford, Ga., which develops apps for Google Glass.

Last year, Rasa was chosen by Google to participate in its “Explorer” program to test Google Glass’ application in agriculture. He spent more than 2 decades in product marketing and development with companies including IBM and AGCO, and recently launched his own company to develop apps for Google Glass.

During the last several months, Rasa has demonstrated the potential of the “wearable technology” to dozens of farmers and ag industry professionals.

Bruce Rasa, owner of TekWear LLC, is wearing Google Glass, a new hands-free technology that can be used to scout crops, record equipment maintenence and train employees. Photo courtesy of Bruce Rasa.

“The ability to take a hands-free photo or video to document maintenance on a piece of equipment are two of the biggest benefits for dealers,” Rasa says. “Plus, technicians could use this as a training tool, showing a 2 minute video on a setup while the trainee is still able to work hands-on with equipment.”

Users see a translucent screen in the right-hand corner of the lense, which they can control using either a scrolling tool on the side of the frame or voice commands, such as “OK Glass, take a picture.” The device has 16 gigabytes of storage, and data is also automatically backed up wirelessly though a Google+ account.

Rasa recently introduced Google Glass to Missouri farmer Garrett Riekhof, who says the technology could advance remote service capabilities for dealers.

 “I think Google Glass will trump telematics as they are today because I could crawl under that cab and give the dealer a bottom-up look at a problem in real time,” Riekhof says. “That saves a field call and, in some cases, could be a cheaper option for farmers than subscribing to a remote service plan.”

Although there is optimism surrounding the technology’s use in ag, Rasa notes there are limitations and obstacles to widespread adoption. One of those initial barriers is cost. Google Glass only recently became commercially available and retails for about $1,500 per unit. Rasa says the best candidates for the technology will initially be high-end farmers who are already heavily reliant on precision farming and mobile devices.

“The promise is that it’s a smart phone on your face,” Rasa says. “Technically, it’s more like an accessory to a smart phone or tablet, because it doesn’t have the same infrastructure as those devices.”

Google Glass is a tool dealers and farmers could use to evaluate crop health and diagnose in-field problems, remotely, in real time. But cost and information security are initial hurdles to widespread adoption.
Photo Courtesy of Bruce Rasa.

Public concerns have also been raised over privacy and safety of the information collected on the device. While Google Glass has safeguards similar to a smart phone or tablet, Rasa says users still need to be conscious of what information they are collecting and storing on the device, as well as who they share it with.

“To tap the insight of their dealer, customers will want to share the data they collect,” Rasa says. “So there is a trade-off, but farmers are the ones who will control who has access.”

Google Glass will evolve as a precision farming tool, Rasa says, but he doesn’t expect it to be a product dealers will stock on their shelves. Much like smart phones and tablets, retail outlets and online avenues will drive sales.

But if and when adoption increases, Riekhof sees potential for use of the technology to improve precision service and support. “There’s going to be a lot more value if I can work and communicate with someone who also has the technology,” he says. “Perhaps there will come a time in the future when service plans will come with Google Glass and 15 hours worth of time to work with my agronomist.”