Erie IT analysts Brett McCorkle and Rita Briody piloted a program to put Google Glass on the heads of claims adjusters, and now the company could end up as the insurance flag bearers for the technology. Both technologists spoke with INN about the challenge of incorporating innovation with R&D, and how technology can change the world.

INN: Tell me the origin story of Google Glass at Erie.

Rita Briody: I've been friends with the principal architect for optics at Google[x] for a number of years, and in 2012 he showed me a prototype. I said I'd really like to be a part of beta testing, and so I became one of the first in the Explorer program. They let me do that for a while and said: “if you know three more people who might be interested, give us their names and we'll invite them.” Brett, I knew, had an interest and he got his Glass. I called it a serendipitous accident. Then he had a claim in his home.

Brett McCorkle: The adjuster came over to my house and they're given a lot of equipment to do their job: A portfolio, laptop, digital camera, voice recorder. I observed as he was documenting and trying to get the pictures he needed. And at the same time, he's trying to interact with me because I'm the customer. It was a juggling act and all I could think was “wouldn't it make sense to give them something like the Google Glass so they could take pictures and do voice recording?” There's a myriad of things it can do to give them a better opportunity to interact with the customer.

RB: Google Glass does all of that out of the box. From there we put together a proposal with Jeremy Sloan, a senior software engineer who’s part of our team, and took it to senior management. They really liked the idea. And then there was another serendipitous event. We were talking to a group of people who were organizing Erie’s innovation challenge; it's called "Think Ahead," last June and they said we really needed to submit this idea, and we were one of four selected as winners.

INN: Describe the functionality of your Glass application.

BM: We didn't build any specific app. We introduced this technology into the adjusters’ day-to-day work, and that was the pilot. And we got involved with the Google Glass at Work program.

RB: My contact at Google [x] said he’d never thought of insurance. Within about a week and a half, he had contacted Steven Willinger, who’s in charge of the Glass at Work program. He was pretty excited because they just hadn't thought about insurance.

Now we're not only looking at upgrades, fixes and limitations, but also to learn how they do innovation and R&D at Google. We're trying to meet with different teams to talk about the technologies that were mentioned at the IO, the developer conference they hold once a year.

BM: They said if we can move forward on this, it would make us the flag bearer of Glass use in the insurance industry.

INN: How much time does it save adjusters?

RB:In the future they hope to be able to go into the houses and say: “Glass: take a picture; save it as; send to…” That saves an incredible amount of time. They take any number of pictures -- could be ten, it could be a hundred -- then they go to their cars, plug their phones into their laptop and rename all of those pictures. Then they send everything to the home office and to whichever system needs to have that information. Wearable aren't going anywhere; they're getting more sophisticated and there's going to be a convergence.

INN: How do you foresee adjusters using Glass?

BM: We worked with two branches -- two auto adjusters and two property adjusters in each branch, trained them to use Glass and asked for their feedback. We wanted to know if it could replace their current digital camera and how it affected their interactions with the customers. We wanted to look at video streaming and note dictation. The feedback was that the picture quality was sufficient and the hands-free did help them juggle. But we weren't really sure how people would react to the adjusters wearing Google Glass, or how the adjusters would feel. It turns out they were neutral; it didn't bother customers and many actually were curious and wanted to try it on. The adjusters said it did help them interact with policyholders better because it allowed them to keep eye contact with the customer instead of staring at a laptop screen or tablet.

On the other side of it, the camera doesn't have a zoom and there wasn't a flash built into it. If they're in a dimly lit room, crawl space or attic, that’s really difficult. The other thing is angled shots. One of the adjusters went to a claim that had a sewer drain back up. Typically she'd put the camera close to the ground to show corners of tiling or the warped floor. She said there was no way she was putting her face close to the floor after a sewer back up!

INN: Those seem like simple problems to overcome, though.

RB: There's a work around for that; it's a snake-like attachment. We've been feeding all this information back to Google, and there are other enterprise partners have been giving them similar information.

We ran the pilot and learned a lot of really great stuff. Wearables are a fairly new aspect of technology and it's not going away soon, so it's a matter of us evolving and figuring out the right mix for us. If you look at the healthcare industry, where Glass has really taken off, doctors are now looking at patients rather than at their laptop. Patients like that. They feel more connected and that makes for a better experience. The human touch, that's the most important thing. We're going to take this technology and use it in a way that would make our founder proud.

BM: All we're trying to do is change the world.

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