Faraday's Fridge; Analysis of the Google Glass Failure and Why Things May Be Different Now

Labiak, Tyler, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Ku, Tsai-Hsuan, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The intelligence of Internet of things networks lies in the ability to collect and
communicate data between sensors, devices and the cloud. As a result, these devices beget
concerns about surveillance, privacy, and protection of peoples’ digital identities. My STS and
technical projects address aspects of the social-technical problem that is connecting people and
things responsibly with IOT devices. The technical project focuses on the physical
implementation of an IOT parking sensor, and the STS project explores, using Actor Network
theory, how Google Glass failed as an IOT device due to social factors. This will provide
insights about how to better address the social factors regarding IOT devices going forward.
Below I will summarize my work and reflect on the process of writing my prospectus for this
research, with an emphasis on the value of working on these projects in relation to each other
rather than as isolated topics.
For the technical aspect of this project, my team focused on making a smart parking
sensor. The parking space will have an inductive loop to detect the presence of a metal body such
as a car in the spot. Also, it will have a Bluetooth receiver to check the ID of a beacon embedded
in the car, for managing parking permissions. The goal is to automate the permissions process in
a parking garage rather than having to rely on a sticker, gate, or license plate inspection. An
additional functionality that could be incorporated is payment over Bluetooth, which would
allow street parking to be automated without a meter.
The STS project I will focus on is a case study of Google Glass using the framework of
Actor Network Theory. Actor Network views everything in the social, natural, and technical
world as a network consisting of actors which themselves may be networks. Engineers are the
network builders that bring together these heterogeneous actors into a sociotechnical network. In
this case Google was a network builder, whose actor network Google Glass was destabilized due
to various rogue actors regarding the social concerns about privacy and surveillance surrounding
ubiquitous recording. These factors are often ignored as the media believed Glass to be nerdy
and overpriced, but their role is essential to the failure of Glass and sheds light on the importance
of addressing these social factors when working with IOT devices.
Working on these two projects has both influenced the direction that each is taking as
well as affected the considerations I am making in my designs and research. The idea for my
technical project came first, and as a result I had an inspiration for STS research in analyzing a
failed IOT device. From there, I started looking into Google Glass without knowing the full
story. This of course had to do with people’s privacy, surveillance, and data collection of the
camera, and it prompted my team to think more about the implications of our technical research
so that we would not fail in the same way. We needed to ask ourselves what types of data we
were storing and broadcasting. In its current form, every car would be broadcasting out a unique
identifier. What type of data could people collect from this, and would our invention lead to
more surveillance and less privacy? Although our technical project is not finished yet, this may
lead to us tweaking the range of the Bluetooth beacon or the times when signals are put out. A
later version may have to incorporate a handshake verification between parking spot and car
before outputting the car’s identity. Regardless, I’m much more aware of these social factors
from my STS research. Working simultaneously on these projects inspired my pure research and
impacted my technical work.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Actor Network Theory, Google Glass, Bluetooth, Oscillator

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Tsai-Hsuan Ku
Technical Team Members: Mac Cartier, Seth VandeBraak

Issued Date: