Patrick Jackson: The Innovation Interview

Patrick Jackson, Google Glass Explorer and Rocky Mount Fire Department Firefighter shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and Google Glass.

Patrick was born near Winston Salem, North Carolina, in 1979 and is 34 years old. He lived there through high school before attending college first at NC State (for one year) and then finishing at UNC-Asheville. He studied a bit of computer engineering his first year at college, but then had a change of heart and wanted to do something related to the environment. He got his degree in Environmental Management and Policy from UNC-Asheville in 2003. He also met his wife in college and then they got married a few years after graduation. She’s an elementary school teacher and they have two small children.

After college, Patrick applied to the fire service in Asheville, Winston Salem, Raleigh and Rocky Mount where he was accepted in 2006. He hadn’t been playing around with computers since 2000 but he then got an Android phone which reignited his interest in developing. He made an android app called “FirefighterLog” and integrated that with the fire department’s dispatch system. They’ve been using that for over 2 years now in Rocky Mount and other firefighters have downloaded it for their units in cities and states across the US.

Patrick sees the massive potential for fire service technologies to develop on mobile devices because the existing technology was in binders or books initially and then on laptops in the fire trucks. These laptops were expensive and the software costs several thousand dollars each. In contrast, a tablet can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and apps like “FirefighterLog” are inexpensive so they bring the cost to the fire department down significantly, which means it gets to a lot more people.

Patrick heard about Google Glass when he was watching the 2012 Google I/O keynote where Sergey Brin debuted Glass via the skydiving demo. Patrick immediately started thinking about using Glass in the fire service. He submitted his idea through G+ as part of the #ifihadglass competition and was chosen. He didn’t have the cash for Glass at the time so he launched an indiegogo campaign and raised $2K (mainly from other firefighters who’d already downloaded his Android “firefighter log” app) to help him pay for it.

Patrick picked up Glass at the NYC Basecamp in September (his first trip to the Big Apple) but before he even had Glass, he was able to integrate the firefighter call line directly into Glass using the Mirror API. “I programmed for Glass without touching the device. I hadn’t even seen it and I built the Glassware for it.” (Note how easy it is to build on Glass or how smart Patrick is!) Once he got Glass, he was able to activate his Glassware on it and began expanding the technology using both the mirror API and GDK.

At the Rocky Mount Fire Department, all incoming calls come directly to Patrick’s Glass device. He then uses Glass to lead his unit to the emergency location and locate the nearest fire hydrant while en route. This saves valuable time and in his business, every second counts. Patrick is currently developing Glassware that will allow him to look up location information and get floor plans for different buildings; either by saying the address or just looking at the building. He’s also integrating car diagrams in the case of an emergency situation where the fire department needs to cut through part of the car, they can easily find the best access point. All of this would happen hands free via voice commands and very, very quickly.

On the side, Patrick is working on a CPR assist app for Glass that could help figure out the pace at which to provide CPR, and measure how fast your compressions are (and whether you need to speed up or slow down). He’s working with a start-up called team (evermed) on this effort, during his days off from the fire department.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is doing something that has not been done before. I see innovation as iterative in nature. People who are innovative are really building off the work of people before them, contributing to push what is possible forward.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

My industry (fire service) is a good example. Four years ago when I started working on mobile and cloud technology in the fire service there was not many other people doing it, especially the big vendors. Same is still true today, but there are some companies coming on board and adoption with fire departments. Fire service seems to have a tendency to lag behind in some areas of technology. Mobile and cloud technology has the potential to disrupt this space.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

If you know you have a good idea, stick with it and don’t let other people sway you.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Marrying my wife, Cherry Jackson. She is an amazing woman, mother, and educator.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Digital, especially for news. News is near instant today and online news can be highly customized. I use Pulse, Google Newsstand, etc to get news on topics I am interested in and have it available anytime. Physical is still best for reading novels.

Why did you want to become a firefighter and where did your interest in Google Glass begin?

I’ve always wanted to help people and the community at large in some way. Being a firefighter does that and has excitement and a physical aspect that really attracted me. Firefighters really do have a brotherhood/sisterhood that is remarkable. I don’t know of anything else like it.

When I saw Google’s presentation of Google Glass at Google I/O 2012 where they had skydivers jumping from a blimp streaming POV video, I immediately started thinking of applications for the fire service.

How will Google Glass along with your firefighting glassware app change the way firefighters help save lives?

My goal is to provide all the information that is available for the given emergency quickly, easily, and hands free. You could call it ‘smart’ firefighting to fit in with the trend of ‘smart’ apps. It can change how firefighters respond by decreasing response time and having better situational awareness.

As your FirefighterLog glassware app gains recognition and becomes a tool that empowers firefighters, how do you plan to scale the app to multiple firehouses and districts around the country?

Google App Engine. It is an amazing platform and can scale from one server to hundreds in a few minutes, and is highly dependable. App Engine could easily handle the app for every fire department in the world, so I am not so concerned about capability on that side of things. I’m working on integration tools and management interface to allow Fire Department’s to connect with the system without too much friction.

What has the response to Google Glass and the FirefighterLog glassware app been from your fellow firefighters?

Usually the response is ‘Wow, I can see a lot of great uses for this.’ Some people don’t get it or think it is crazy, but for the most part it has been positive.

How do you envision the wearables market evolving and what new technologies do you think will help firefighters fight fires and respond to medical calls?

Glass and similar products will provide a lot of applications for the field, but the price has got to come down. Sharing video with doctors from the field, access protocols, drug info, patient records are things that can aid medics response. Smartwatches also are a big potential in improving medical calls by providing hands free information and applications.