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Google Glass Comes To The Triangle

Brian Gundersen with his new Google Glass.
Brian Gundersen

The new supercomputer headgear Google Glass might seem like technology from the future, but in North Carolina there have already been sightings. At least three Google Glass users have made their way through the Triangle recently, and they left behind a trail of media documenting their experiences.

Brian Gundersen, 27, is an entrepreneur from Maryland and was one of the Glass users who ventured through North Carolina last week. He received his Glass on June 29 and has documented much of his life since through the tiny camera mounted to the Glass frame.

Gundersen traveled to Chapel Hill to meet friends he’d made on the social network Google Plus, and used his Glass to record his first-ever visits to many Triangle landmarks like UNC’s Kenan Memorial Stadium and the Old Well:

As well as the Duke University campus (which he describes in this film as “giant medieval castles”) and Top of the Hill Brewery & Restaurant:

Also while in North Carolina, he was contacted by ophthalmologist Dr. Isaac Porter, with Lowry Porter ophthalmology in Raleigh, who wanted to run eye tests on Gundersen while he was wearing the Glass. Porter runs a video blog calledState of Sight where he discusses various topics that relate to eye health, and he was interested in learning about how the Glass affects one's field of vision.

“This is amazing technology, and we’ve never had anything like it before,” Porter said. “As an ophthalmologist, I was interested in how the frame displays in one’s vision.

Porter ran the tests, which showed that only a small, insignificant part of a Glass user’s vision is compromised by the frame.

“I know there's been speculation that it could be harmful for people’s eyes, but everything looks to be very safe with it,” Porter said. “For normal activity, it doesn’t seem to get in the way.”

Gundersen recorded his visit with Porter, too:

Another Google Glass user the Triangle has seen recently is 21-year-old Specialist Timothy Garrett, a member of the Army National Guard who lives in Cary. Although he is not allowed to wear the Glass during his official job duties (he performs military honors and says that wearing Google Glass is considered out of uniform), he wants to document another part of his life from the first person perspective: painting.

Specialist Timothy Garrett wearing Google Glass, with his fiancé Claire Gravenhorst.
Credit Timothy Garrett
Specialist Timothy Garrett wearing Google Glass, with his fiancé Claire Gravenhorst.

Garrett has been creating art since he was a child, and wants to share the abstract painting process with others through the new technology. He received his Glass on July 12 and launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money for the cost of the Glass.

“The first few days were a little uncomfortable,” he says. “But now, when I take it off, it feels like it’s still on me. People are calling that a ‘phantom Glass.’”

Garrett says he hasn’t met anyone else in North Carolina who wears Google Glass, and that most people who see him wear it have no idea what it is. He says that he ends up explaining Glass to strangers often and lets people try it on. His only gripe is that there’s no way to adjust the volume, something a Google employee told him they were trying to fix.

Garrett recently left for annual training in Boone and hopes to document some of his experiences there through the Glass if the idea is approved by higher-ups in command.

As for Gundersen, he returned to Maryland and continues to test his Glass everyday. One of his most meaningful accomplishments with the new gadget has been his ability to help his handicapped mother virtually visit places she hasn't seen in years, including rooms in her own home.

“She hadn’t seen her basement in over 15 years, so I went down there and did a Google Hangout (Google Hangout is a video chat, like Skype) with her. She was upstairs on the computer and I was cleaning out the basement and she could tell me what to throw away and what to keep.”

Gundersen also says that he and his mother haven't taken a family vacation in years, and with Glass, he's now able to take her along virtually. As for what's next, he says he's just going to keep wearing them and see what happens.

To see more of Brian Gundersen's videos taken with Google Glass, visit his YouTube page.

UPDATE: Since first posting this story on July 23, we've spoken to another Google Glass user in the Triangle. Amy Roberts, 30, is a nutritional academiologist in her last year as a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. She applied to receive a Google Glass because she wanted to create a nutrition app that helps people make more informed food choices, is easy to use and could provide more accurate data for nutritionists (Currently, nutritionists gather data by asking people to recall what they've eaten.)

“With most nutrition apps, it takes forever to enter data," Roberts says, referring to the many fields one must fill out on apps that can determine the caloric value of food. "What we want to do is capture your diet in a simple way. We’re trying to streamline the process so that you can take a picture of what you’re eating and have the nutritional info instantly.”

The app will be called Healthy Bytes and the goal is to not only help people choose their food wisely, but also provide data to nutritionists who want to study it. Since receiving Google Glass in early June, Roberts and her team--which includes co-founder Tosha Smith and an app developer-- have already created a working prototype for the app.

As for the utility of Google Glass in everyday life, Roberts says that she has worn it a bit, but not all the time like Gundersen or Garrett.  She wears it on the Triangle Transit between Durham and Chapel Hill and says that she loves it when other people recognize the technology and want to try it on themselves.

"People are usually so excited when they recognize it," Roberts says. "It's so much fun to be a part of that excitement."

Roberts says that Healthy Bytes is launching a website this week and hopes to have a final version of the app out by the end of the year.

Laura moved from Chattanooga to Chapel Hill in 2013 to join WUNC as a web producer. She graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in the spring of 2012 and has created radio and multimedia stories for a variety of outlets, including Marketplace, Prairie Public, and Maine Public Broadcasting. When she's not out hunting stories, you can usually find her playing the fiddle.
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