For several years there has been talk and speculation about what augmented reality (AR) would really become, what it could or for that matter couldn’t do and why would we care?

Well, here it is, but wait, it has already been in use for several years so why are we just now hearing more about it? That has much to do with the 800 pound Gorilla in the room. Yes that’s Google.

Google has created the first truly wearable augmented reality, Google Glass. First, I should explain what AR really is. It is “simply” adding layers of data on top of the reality you see. For instance, if I am looking at the outside of what might become my next favorite place to eat but I need to know more about it I can use AR to layer information over the reality I see such as, reviews, the menu etc. etc. right in front of my eyes.

Now, Google Glass takes that to the next level. Here you have a wearable device that takes commands in various ways such as head movement, sound etc. to tell me almost anything I want to know without having to whip out that annoying phone or stop what I am doing and do a search.

Well, that’s the fun part of this technology so what does or could it do for us in the emergency services field? First, from the public’s end, those using this technology will have access to information on the fly and be able to communicate information to others on the fly without so much as looking at a phone. It will give them access to information on where they are, what’s around them and even, possibly who they are looking at.

This poses some challenges and opportunities for us. First, the people using this technology will have an increased knowledge of the world around them and even us. As time and technology move forward, people will have access to more and more information, literally at the blink of an eye. Some challenges for let’s say, law enforcement is that this may give a person a law enforcement officer is dealing with, an edge that they never had before. For example, if at the same time a person is interacting with an officer the person can pull up data on the officers department and the training they are given, it may give them an opportunity to take advantage of that officer’s weaknesses in a fight.

But, just think of the knowledge it could provide first responders? Maybe not today, but in the future the possibilities exist with facial recognition to be able to wear a device like Google Glass and scan a crowd for a suspect where the glasses would alert you to when you find someone with an outstanding warrant or someone suspected in a crime. Also, think of the possibilities of having a technology like this so first responders could just look at a building and see its layout and schematics. What about being able to roll up on the scene of a major disaster and be able to see what the area looked like before. Not like looking at a map but real images layered over what you are seeing right in front of you. This may drastically increase responders’ ability to rescue people safely and in a faster manner.

With all “new” technology, there will be up and downsides to it. But, if we as the response community can allow our inner five year old imaginations run wild, I think we can turn this technology into something wonderful that protects us and saves lives.

Master Deputy Tom Erickson has been with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for the past 18 years. He has served in several capacities within the office to include as the Public Information Officer for the past 10 years. Tom is an early adopter of social media both personally and professionally and has successfully integrated multiple platforms in his agency and assisted with the Kansas Incident Management Teams implementation and use of social media before, during and after disasters.