Google Glass Takes ‘Field Trip’ Into 21st Century Travel With Virtual Tour Guide

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on August 22 2013 5:41 AM
Google Glass Field Trip
The Field Trip app for Google Glass shares real-time information about a destination straight to your right eyeball. Niantic Labs

Google Glass is arguably the most-anticipated tech toy since the iPhone, and anyone looking for yet another reason to get excited about the high-tech eyewear can consider this: It can now act as your own virtual tour guide with the help of “Field Trip.”

The new app comes from John Hanke, the brains behind Google Earth, Maps and Street View and now Niantic Labs, a startup within the Google umbrella. Niantic Labs’ mission is a lofty one: to reimagine the physical world with augmented reality. First up is Field Trip.

The app -- which aims to make a tourist out of a local and a local out of a tourist -- is already available to the general public in a toned-down version for iPhone and Android. Essentially, it ups the ante on traditional guidebooks by digitally annotating a destination in real time with the help of GPS information, offering “history, architecture, insider tips, and hidden gems from over 100 local publisher partners.”

Those partners include Zagat, Time Out, Thrillist, Food Network, Flavorpill and the Public Art Archive, and their aggregated information pops up on a card on your screen while the app runs in the background. If you’re driving and have a headset or Bluetooth connected, a voice can even whisper the information right into your ear.

According to the developer’s description, the app lets you “live like a local when you travel to new places. Eat and shop off the beaten path. Or simply discover the obscure history about your neighborhood during your next walk to the park.”

Google Glass takes that idea to the next level and has become, at least to several aficionados, the best example of the new tech toy’s promise -- though those who aren't among the 10,000 Google Glass explorers who paid $1,500 to be early adopters will have to wait until a consumer model goes on sale in 2014 to try it out.

Field Trip for Google Glass, one of the product’s first apps, has the ability to identify landmarks and provide instant insight in your field of view. Say you’re on a vacation to Yellowstone National Park and looking at the Old Faithful Geyser with your Google Glass, Field Trip will tell you that “the naturally occurring hot spring jets boiling water and sulfur over 180 feet in the air every 40 minutes.”

Critics argue that the downside to such an app is that instead of actually looking at Old Faithful, users are reading about it in a Wikipedia-like entry. Thus, they say, technology trumps reality once again.

Yet, Glass does make it easier to enjoy a destination, by delivering the information directly to a translucent screen above your right eyeball instead of a buzzing phone in your hand. Thus, it is said to be less distracting than a smartphone, which takes you out of your physical environment. Moreover, its developers argue that walking around with Field Trip is like taking a stroll with a local who knows the place well and wants to share.

“There is a tendency of mobile to isolate people,” Hanke told the Los Angeles Times. “When you are using mobile devices you often are not interacting with the people in the room or the things around you. The concept is to use Google … to allow people to have a richer experience with the real physical world.”

Hanke developed Field Trip for Glass and released the mobile versions as a way to build up interest in the product and gain insight used to refine the ultimate edition. For the Glass-less masses, check out the video below for a look at what the new app can do.

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