Racing around…and around and around…with Google Glass

Michigan International Speedway Pit Road

I had the privilege this past weekend of being a guest at the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race held at Michigan International Speedway. The track was interested in seeing what I could do with Google Glass as a fan, and I also kept thinking about what the track could do with the device if they owned one.

As you can see from my Google Plus photo album of my day, there is no end of fun things to capture at a race track. I shot pictures and video of race cars and track facilities before and during the race. I used Glass to track rain on a radar app and I looked up information about drivers by Googling information without ever taking my phone from my pocket. Google Glass vignette

One thing to note is that while I believe Glass’ microphone and voice recognition are excellent, they cannot compete with the noise from a revving race car engine! My wife and I had to go around the corner a few times when trying to do something with Glass while I was in the garage area. Glass could hear me and would try to interpret what I was searching for, but just couldn’t do it. In Glass’ defense, I doubt my smartphone would either. It was amusing to see what it would come up with though. My favorite was when I attempted to search for “Jeff Gordon,” and Glass responded that it was searching for “Yahoo Porn.”Google Glass photo vignette

Overall, Glass did very well with the photos and videos I was shooting, both indoor and out. Of course, as always, the super-wide angle of the camera lens means you can lose some details if you aren’t close to your subject. On the other hand, being able to take a photo in tight quarters is a nice feature, and wide-angle shots makes it ideal for some expansive locations. I suppose the answer would be for a digital zoom feature to be built into Glass’ camera. As one of the track employees noted when discussing this “shortfall,” though, Glass sees what you see, so the wide-angle view didn’t surprise them in the least.

MIS garage inspectionBecause I had a special level of access to the facility, I was able to get to places that not everyone gets to go. This made me think of my trip with Glass in two ways: What could a fan do with them and what could an employee do with them. My access included the Media Center, which fans can’t get into but employees can, plus a Cold Garage pass, which gave me access to the garage area prior to the race. I also could get out on the track for the pre-race festivities. The Cold Garage and Pre-Race passes are available to a small number of fans and all employees.

From a fan standpoint, besides the easy navigation, weather and Google access, Glass was a great way to capture photos and videos. I took a shot while driving to a parking area in the track infield, which means you have to cross the track. It was raining when we arrived so I wanted to capture a shot of the wet track. I glanced to the left while driving and shot a picture in a split second, hoping for the best. My wife commented later that it was better than the one she shot on her smartphone even though she had the advantage of being able to concentrate on taking the picture from the passenger seat.

Michigan International Speedway track

In the garage area, I shot pictures to share on social media as well as a few to capture some memories. I also did a few videos to capture the experience in ways a still photo can’t, particularly in an environment where the noise and commotion convey as much as the image.

 

During the race, pictures and videos of the action were easy enough to do. The lag time on the picture being shot is very short. And the access I had to various areas of the track made for some good vantage points for pit stop videos. I still was a bit far from the finish line, so the pictures and videos of the actual race don’t have the zoom factor I would like, but they’re reasonably good overall.

From a staff standpoint, I could see the track putting Glass to some phenomenal uses.

As I wrote earlier, I had access to the Media Center, which means I could take pictures and video during the press conference with this year’s winner, Jeff Gordon. If I was an MIS employee, I would have been more comfortable sitting closer and making the most of Glass’ recording capabilities without feeling like I was an intrusive outsider. I did get a kick out of Gordon pointing at my Glass and saying, “Hey, cool!” when he walked by me on his way out of the Media Center.

 

The track also could do a lot more “behind the scenes” type of work with Glass through pictures and video than I had the ability to. Imagine being able to see areas as a fan that we just can’t get to. There’s the stage where drivers are introduced to the fans, but what about a little of what goes on behind the wall before they are announced and come out? Pace car rides are always a big hit with fans, so what about a video showing what it’s like to go fast around the track — or maybe a trip around in one of the actual race cars to see what it’s like to go really fast?

Roger Curtis, president of MIS, and his team have made a great commitment to putting fans first. At every race I’ve been to at the track, I’ve seen Roger out working the crowd — talking to fans, getting their comments, handing out special passes — anything to make them feel welcome and appreciated. You know he’s a good leader for the track when fans are often reaching out to him for an autograph, not just to the drivers. I think Roger wearing Glass during events, sharing pictures of fans and video of working rope lines, could be a big hit on social media.

#99 race carAnd then there are the drivers, the pit crew, the team managers and owners, and the many staff that make things happen at the track seamlessly — or at least make it seem that way. Letting them wear Glass and share a first-person perspective either through a live feed or through pictures and videos shared later could be one more way for the track to expand a fan’s experience.

NASCAR fans and visitors to MIS are a committed bunch. They are, in many cases, the epitome of the word fan, which is derived from the word fanatic. And I say that with respect, not as a slight. I wish there were more events and venues where people really cared as deeply for their team as race fans care about their drivers.

Who knows, maybe if Google Glass were available and put to good use at venues and for the right activities, more fans might find a connection to people and events they never knew they would like. There’s an old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Imagine if you could do so virtually, thanks to the power of Google Glass. That’s something worthy of a trophy.

2014 Pure Michigan 400 trophy

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Want customers? Just make your sh*t work

Ari & Jessi at MIS

Me and Jessi Wortley Adler at MIS

How do you make a customer’s experience with your business so great that they want to keep you a part of their life and even promote you to their friends and family? Make the customer experience about what the customer needs instead of about what you think the customer wants.

I started thinking about this after I attended the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. The subject moved to the front burner of my brain again after I heard about Steve Jobs resigning as CEO of Apple.

What do a race car track and a technology company have in common? They have fans — not just of the product they are selling but of themselves. They, and a couple of other companies that come to mind, have figured out what their customers want but also give customers what they need, which turns them into fans.

Let’s start with MIS. I’m not a big fan of NASCAR races and I had heard tales of long traffic backups getting into and out of MIS over the years. So, when I landed a couple of tickets for my wife and I to attend the Pure Michigan 400, I was more excited for her because she is a big NASCAR fan. I, on the other hand, was anxious about surviving the event and figured I’d probably just suck it up and enjoy the day for Jessi’s sake.

Now, granted, I called in a favor and was able to get access to areas not all fans get to visit. But my initial experience at the MIS website for visitor information and traveling in and out of the facility were the same for me as they would be for any customer. And that’s where MIS really shines. For example, the track has worked closely with government officials to improve ingress and egress with dramatic changes to traffic patterns. This has resulted, according to track officials, in dropping the time required to exit the track area from between five and seven hours down to about an hour and a half.

MIS logoAt their website, you can find all kinds of information, including a fan guide and 3D map of the facility. The Grand Stand Gate Policy on what fans can bring with them also is a big selling point. In most places these days, fans are treated like security risks, with the ability to carry anything with you to an event being severely curtailed. Instead, MIS understands that fans are going to spend hours there and they are going to have stuff with them. You can bring coolers, bags and equipment in with you. Sure, there are size restrictions, but they are quite generous. I especially liked the picture MIS put in its guest guide of what a fan carrying everything allowed would look like, to give you a better perspective on how to stay within the rules.

My point here is that MIS has figured out what fans want — to see a NASCAR race in Michigan. But they’ve also figured out what they need — the ability to get home at a reasonable hour, the ability to carry food, drink and other paraphernalia with them throughout their visit, and the need to feel like they are understood and appreciated.

Apple logo

Apple products come to mind when I think about this sort of customer experience, too. Sure, thanks to Steve Jobs we’ve seen the company grow over the years and become a leader in cutting-edge design and performance. But in addition to figuring out what people want, they’ve also figured out what we need. We need computers, tablets and smartphones that make life easier, not more complicated. Perhaps the best explanation of why someone can so easily become a fan of Apple I’ve ever heard is, “Their sh*t just works.”

That’s all we want as customers and we don’t want to have to struggle with your product or you.

I mentioned earlier that a couple of other companies come to mind when I think about this concept. When I sat down with pen and paper (yes, I still use those!) to force myself to think of top companies or products that I use and would recommend, Amazon.com and Evernote got jotted down immediately.

Amazon logoAmazon.com is still one of the easiest places to go if you want to search for and buy a product. The last time I was on that site to buy something, it took less than 10 minutes from the time one of my kids said, “Hey, it’s on sale!” to receiving an email telling me my order had been received and was being processed. My shopping experience was easy, even though I was paying with a combination of a credit card and rewards points. I got what I wanted — a good price on a product. But Amazon.com also gave me what I needed — simplicity and speed.

Evernote logoEvernote is a fantastic product for keeping all those notes, receipts and other forms of minutiae with you and synchronized across multiple devices. It’s one of my favorite companies because they give me what I want — a way to easily keep track of the many scattered bits of information in my life across the many technology platforms that I use. But they also give me what I need — an easy user interface, speed, and a continually improving product that keeps pace with what I want (sometimes before I even know I want it).

So the next time you have a brainstorming meeting about what you and your colleagues can do to bring in more customers or keep the ones you have happy and coming back, consider the basic desires everyone has. We want to be appreciated and understood. We want  a rewarding experience and we don’t want a big hassle on our hands to get it.

In short, whether you produce widgets or provide a professional service, just make your sh*t work.