SAN FRANCISCO (USA TODAY) – Google.org, the search engine's non-profit arm, announced Wednesday that it has selected five organizations to each receive a $25,000 grant and one pair of its wearable computer, Glass.
For the tech giant, the gifts represent a drop in its vast fiscal ocean. But for the recipients, it has the potential to revolutionize their work.
"You know how we all say, 'Try and see things through other people's eyes?' It's tough to do, but with Glass you literally can," says Steve Messler, who as a bobsledder competed in three standard Olympic Games and in 2009 founded the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Paralympic Mentor program, Classroom Champions.
The organization sends some of the top American and Canadian Paralympians — such as blind U.S. long jumper Lex Gillette and sledge hockey gold medalist Josh Sweeney — to visit elementary schools to share personal stories and training regimens. Having those athletes record their routines using Glass will allow a sharable library of videos to make the rounds more freely than in-person visits.
"When Lex trains for a long jump, kids will see what that looks like. Or when April Holmes, who lost a limb as an adult, has to change out her leg to sprint, you'll appreciate what that's like," says Messler. "In the end, we hope it both builds empathy and grows kids' sense of their own grit and ability."
Messler and the other four winning organizations will meet with Glass engineers on the Google campus next week. The focus of the meet-and-greet will be to see how Glass can be tailored to the particular technological needs of each group.
"These organizations really represent the spirit of entrepreneurship and social impact, and it's exciting to see what can happen with their programs with the addition of Glass," says Google.org spokesperson Kate Parker.
Parker notes that the contest's 1,300 applicants were assessed based on a combination of passion, impact and the shear feasibility of their proposed use of Glass, the $1,500 hands-free tool that has yet to go on sale to the general public.
The other four winners are:
• 3000 Miles To A Cure: The organization focuses on raising funds for brain cancer and will use Glass to record portions of the grueling 3,000-mile bicycle Race Across America from a competitors' point of view.
• Women's Audio Mission: The San Francisco-based group helps girls with a passion for audio and science, and aims to use Glass to enhance its instructional programs.
• The Hearing and Speech Agency: Baltimore-based HASA will use Glass to develop and pilot new ways to improve the lives of people with communication difficulties, hearing loss and autism.
• The Mark Morris Dance Group/Brooklyn Parkinson Group: Glass will help this New York group's instructors develop a series of video prompts that, when Glass is worn by Parkinson's sufferers, can guide them through a range of exercises aimed at stimulating physical movement.
"When we work with people, it's for one hour and then they go home, but with Glass there's the possibility of having people take the lessons home with them," says the Parkinson-focused group's program director David Leventhal.
He says Glass engineers will be key to advancing his group's mission.
"Often Parkinson sufferers start to drop their heads, and it would be great to have an alarm sound if they do that (while wearing Glass)," he says. "The greatest thing here is these are people who need their hands for canes and just to stabilize themselves. So an iPad app would never work. Glasses are perfect."