The promise of Google Glass

Searching for a development purpose: A prototype of Google Glass, the highly anticipated wearable computing device that is expected to hit the market next year. Photo by: Skotkonung Ltd

Google Glass is set to hit the market next year, but attendees at this week’s SIME conference in Stockholm were among the first to test out a prototype. The buzz around this wearable computing device has been massive, and not surprisingly, its exhibit at SIME drew huge crowds.

Although the prototype came with only a limited set of functions — among them the ability to take a photo by voice command — the possibility for applications seems great, even for the global aid community. A number of apps are in development to help fight fraud, increase efficiency in aid delivery and promote aid worker security.


Jonathan Cole and his colleagues at Skotkonung, a U.K.-based specialized software development company, are looking at using the Glass, with its face recognition capability, to enrol and verify the identity of aid beneficiaries.

Also with that function, it will remove the need for aid workers to carry IDs that may pose a risk to their safety, especially in aid hot spots such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

“Accurate time- and location-linked capture and checking of people and resources can ensure greater transparency and safety for aid personnel and beneficiaries through a reduction in use of current systems reliant on individual decision-making processes and the challenges that these can create in high-pressure environments,” Cole, Skotkonung’s managing director, told Devex.

The demo variant of the application is in early stage testing; the final version will come out once the cost and full capability of the device are known.

“We will work to complete the application if it would appear viable in the aid marketplace,” Cole said.

In the meantime, Skotkonung is also exploring how it can combine the capabilities of the wearable gear with biometrics.

In 2012, the firm, as part of its involvement in a public works project in Africa, developed a biometric system for low-end Android smartphones to register, monitor and manage payment to project beneficiaries. The application captures face and fingerprint templates as well as biographical and location data of beneficiaries. Users then tap Wi-Fi and 3G connections when they’re available to send and receive data to a central database and Web portal as a way to report on progress of the project.

Since then, Skotkonung has designed software to promote transparency in cash and voucher transfer programs. The focus, Cole told Devex, was to come up with affordable technologies that can provide a secure tracking system, allowing donors to verify the transfer of cash and vouchers to end recipients, with full audit trail.

“It is also worth saying that as the system costs are low; the potential for these capabilities to be left in country at end of a donor-funded program as part of the legacy of the work is good,” Cole said, noting that the company charges a one-time license fee of 99 pounds ($158) per device and can help relief organizations procure hardware or work with compatible existing gadgets.

Skotkonung will work in the coming months with a key partner in the field to refine the applications, but said it welcomes collaboration especially with aid groups actively involved in cash and voucher transfer programs for the same purpose.

Got an idea on how to put Google Glass in the service of development? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Read our previous #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.