French railway company SNCF is using Google Glass to check passengers' tickets before boarding, in a test of the technology that could be rolled out across the network.
Thursday's 12:07 p.m. IDTGV train from the Gare de Lyon in Paris to Béziers in the South of France was the first for which ticket inspectors were equipped with Google Glass, in addition to their usual barcode scanner and RFID reader attached to a Galaxy Tab from Samsung Electronics.
IDTGV, a 10-year-old subsidiary of SNCF, operates "low-cost" rail services and also serves as an innovation lab, testing new services and technologies that, if they prove useful, can be deployed throughout the group. IDTGV operates around 10,000 trains a year, serving 30 destinations and 4 million passengers. Unlike for other SNCF trains, IDTGV tickets can't be bought at the station: Customer service is all electronic, whether by phone, chat, email, social networks or online self-service. Customers handle their booking, seat placement and service selection. To ensure that everyone aboard is a paying passenger, IDTGV staff on the station platform use the mini-tablet to scan tickets, whether on paper, smartphone screen or RFID card.
For now, IDTGV staff will only use Google Glass during the platform ticket check, aiming to strengthen their relationship with the client by maintaining eye contact -- but the company may test onboard uses of the technology later.
The fact that the Tab ran Android made it easy to connect Google Glass via Bluetooth, said IDTGV CIO Fabrice Flottes de Pouzols. The Tabs were introduced at the start of the summer, replacing older ruggedized PDAs from Motorola.
The glasses display essential information for ticket inspectors such as whether the ticket is valid, the seat reserved and additional services, like if food was purchased. An icon alerts them if it is the passenger's birthday, allowing them to offer, perhaps, an upgrade or a free drink at the bar.
The company is running its experiment with just four Google Glass units.
"We had a lot of trouble obtaining the glasses. Google France couldn't get them for us, so we bought them for about £1,000 each through one of our suppliers in the U.K. which had access to the Glass Explorer program," said Flottes de Pouzols.
The experiment will how customers perceive the way they are met by the ticket inspectors and whether the devices make the inspectors' work easier.
"We need to evaluate the usefulness of this innovation to see whether we invest in it with any supplier. Others, notably Samsung, have a much more constructive attitude than Google," said Flottes de Pouzols.
Samsung works regularly with large companies such as SNCF on the design of its tablets and other terminals. But SNCF is also eyeing LG Electronics and other suppliers, notably French ones, which might respond to a request for proposals should SNCF decide to deploy the glasses on a larger scale.
Another project for IDTGV could be to offer apps for passengers with smartwatches, allowing ticket inspectors to scan barcode on the watch display. But giving the inspectors a smartwatch has been ruled out: Looking at one's watch is associated with boredom and not good customer service.
Other tests are in the works like using the glasses' camera to scan tickets with a barcode optimized for this purpose, or using the earphones to speak the information as well as displaying it.
IDTGV is also considering providing staff aboard the trains with smart glasses so that they can report problems such as broken seats by photographing them, or so they can identify passengers by their seat number in order to wish them a happy birthday.