News and analysis
July 15, 2014

Charities Kick Off Experiments With Google Glass

Many people are eagerly anticipating the public release of Google Glass so they can surf online and send texts without using their hands.

But this week five nonprofits are getting an early chance to work with Google developers to figure out how to use the devices to advance their causes.

The organizations were chosen from among 1,300 groups in a contest Google.org, the company’s charitable arm, ran to encourage charities to submit their ideas for using eyewear. Each winner will receive a $25,000 grant and a free pair of the wraparound glasses, which will be sold for $1,500 apiece when they become available to the public.

Hands-Free

For Dance for PD, which provides dance classes to people with Parkinson’s disease to improve their ability to move, Google Glass will make its classes easier for its students.

The program is an offshoot of the Mark Morris Dance Group, whose classes are taught by retired dancers. Dance for PD will work with the Google developers to create visual and musical prompts that help its students learn dance steps or maintain a steady walking tempo.

David Leventhal, the program’s director and a former dancer with the company, says he envisions voice commands tailored to each student that tell them to go slower or faster or video images of an instructor that allow students to see how they should move.

Although he was initially skeptical about entering the contest, Mr. Leventhal says he soon realized the technology had great potential for its students both inside and outside of their time in the studio.

"We started thinking about what people with Parkinson’s might need, a way that people could take the information and strategies that we talk about in class with them outside into the rest of their lives," he says.

Glass, Mr. Leventhal says, will allow students to work under fewer constraints.

"One of the things we see in the studio is that people often need to use their hands. They need to hold on to a walker, or they have a cane. With Glass, it’s hands-free."

Part of the Team

Google Glass will enhance another charity’s ability to connect with donors while they’re on the move.

Maria Parker is founder of 3,000 Miles to a Cure, a charity that raises money for brain-cancer research through volunteers competing in long-distance cycling events. The organization, which hopes to raise $1-million for research, wants to use Glass to let donors see what it’s like to participate in a race.

Ms. Parker says the charity will work with developers to create an app that enables riders to record footage from their rides for donors and to go online while they’re cycling to see Facebook posts and check how much money they’ve raised. The idea was inspired by Ms. Parker’s own experience establishing the organization and riding to raise money for her sister, Jenny, who was diagnosed with brain cancer.

In 2012, she entered the grueling Race Across America, a 3,000-mile transcontinental cycling race that runs from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md. Eleven days and 18 hours later, she was the first woman to cross the finish line and raised $70,000 for her organization.

Words of support, Ms. Parker says, kept her going during the arduous event.

"What means a lot to you when you’re riding is the encouragement from the people you know who care," she says. "All along the way, people will post on Facebook."

One such post came from a woman sitting in a hospital with her daughter who had brain cancer. She wrote that Ms. Parker’s difficult ride gave them the strength to continue with their own struggle.

Posts like these inspired the proposal that the organization submitted to Google.org.

Other winners include:

  • Women’s Audio Mission, a San Francisco group, will use Glass for its programs that teach girls about audio and science.
  • The Hearing and Speech Agency, in Baltimore, plans to develop ways to reach people who have hearing and speech disabilities.
  • Classroom Champions, in Jacksonville, Fla., will screen videos shot by Paralympic athletes using Glass that show schoolchildren how they train and compete.

Send an e-mail to Caroline Bermudez.