(Bloomberg Business) — A few weeks ago, a New Zealand doctor donned Google Glass and beamed video of an aortic surgery to the U.S. offices of medical device maker Endologix Inc.
The test demonstrated the potential power of a technology that famously flopped with consumers but is quickly becoming a go-to gadget for the medical world. Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) is expected to roll out a new version of Glass in the coming months, and medical device makers, hospitals and family doctors are eagerly anticipating improvements. These will probably include an adjustable eyepiece, longer-lasting battery and water-resistant properties, according to people familiar with the project.
Medical professionals see Glass — lightweight eyewear that lets wearers livestream events, take notes, surf the Web and more — as a way to save money and provide better care. Endologix plans to use Glass to train doctors to implant the stents and arterial grafting technology it sells.
“In the future, I could see every physician wearing the Glass for training,” said Keri Hawkins, Endologix’s global director of professional education. “It will change the way we train in health care.”
While Google doesn’t make much money from the relatively small business, Glass is another way to hook users on its features and services, which in turn lets the company scoop up data and sell more ads. Google declined to comment.
When Google rolled out Glass in 2013, initial rapture for the concept quickly gave way to ridicule. Early adopters willing to pay $1,500 for a pair of Web-streaming glasses were deemed “glassholes” and Google stopped selling the gadget to consumers earlier this year.
Still, the company said it would continue to invest in the enterprise market and last year announced “Glass at Work,” an initiative to encourage software developers to target businesses. A host of startups are doing just that for a range of industries, from health care and telecommunications to manufacturing and energy.
“We recognized the medical applications very early,” said Jim Kovach, a senior vice president at CrowdOptic, which sells Glass software for industries ranging from healthcare to sports. “You are saying to yourself, ‘Gosh this would be a great clinical tool.’ When Google said we are going to retrench and make it an enterprise device, we were ready.”
Ramon Llamas, an analyst at researcher IDC, says most of the Glass devices sold last year probably went to corporate clients — many of them in the medical field — who have kept buying this year. Distributors interviewed for this story say Google may have sold hundreds of thousands of units. Glass is outselling other light, eyewear displays at least six to one, according to Brian Ballard, who runs APX Labs, a company that provides software for wearable devices.
Getting a fix on Glass’s sales potential is hard because analysts include it in a broad category of headmounted displays that include everything from fancy binoculars to the gear pilots wear. The market for head-mounted displays is expected to reach a cumulative 25 million units by 2018, Gartner says.