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How safe is Google Glass for driving?

James A. Martin | Nov. 21, 2013
A California woman's citation for wearing Google Glass behind the wheel raises safety questions about wearing the Internet-connected headset while driving.

Why Google Glass Is Safer Than Other In-Car Tech
Not everyone agrees that Google Glass should be banned behind the wheel. Matt McGee, editor of the Glass Almanac blog and a Glass Explorer, says he believes that wearing Google Glass for navigation while driving is much safer than relying on a smartphone's turn-by-turn directions.

Recently, McGee drove in an unfamiliar area near San Francisco. He used both Google Maps on his iPhone and Google Glass navigation to find his hotel. "Pretty quickly it became obvious that Glass was much, much safer than having to glance at my phone to see the map and check my progress," he says.

By default, Google Glass remains off until you tap it or tilt your head to activate it. For additional safety, the screen can be turned off while driving, leaving only the voice navigation; turn-by-turn directions can be turned on with a voice command, though.

Once activated, Google Glass acts like a GPS, McGee says. "The voice says, 'Turn left in 500 feet' ... and the map appears with your location. This lasts about four or five seconds. Then it goes back into Off/Standby. This happens slightly above your right eye. It doesn't block your vision in any way."

The first few times McGee wore Google Glass while driving, he used voice commands to shoot a video or snap a photo; he says that was easy and safe. Since Glass connects to your mobile phone via Bluetooth, "You can also make hands-free phone calls with Glass, just like you can do with regular cell phones."

Now, McGee primarily uses Glass behind the wheel for navigating in unfamiliar areas. "I'd never use Glass (while driving) for something that requires significant attention, like doing a search and looking through results or watching a video that comes in via the CNN app," he says.

Google Glass Beats Dashboard GPS for Navigation
Another advocate for driving with Google Glass is Charles Webster, a Glass Explorer with an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. For his M.S. degree, Webster studied industrial engineering and human factors, such as pilot attention and decision-making during emergency maneuvers and useful vs. distracting effects of real-time automated decision aids. (He also has an M.S. in Intelligent Systems, which combines artificial intelligence and cognitive science.)

The Google Glass display rests above the right eye. Those who've worn it while driving say it's not a distraction.

Webster says that in his experience, it takes approximately five seconds for a driver using a dashboard GPS to turn his head, divert his eyes from the road, shift his focus from infinity to 18 inches (the distance from their eyes to the dashboard GPS), locate the dashboard GPS, interpret the map, turn his head again, refocus on the road, and reinterpret the road ahead of him, since it's changed during those five seconds.


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