Less-distracted driving via Google Glass


I’ve used Google Glass for a couple of weeks now and one of the questions I’m starting to hear more from people is, “Do you wear that while driving?” The answer is that I often do and when using the device to its full potential for turn-by-turn navigation, I can get directions in a way that is far less distracting than other methods I’ve used over the years.

The question has cropped up more in the past couple of days because of my photo log posted at MLive, which includes some pictures I took from behind the wheel (one while in motion and two while stopped at a red light and a stop sign). Also, by now, many people have heard about the woman in California who police pulled over for speeding and gave a ticket to for that plus using Google Glass. She’s challenging both and it could end up being a landmark case for wearable technology and the issue of distracted driving.

Using turn-by-turn directions is fast and easy with Glass, assuming it’s tethered to your cell phone since the device doesn’t have its own GPS capabilities. You simply give the command to get directions and give an address or a previously stored place like home or work. Once you’re underway, Glass keeps itself asleep as much as possible to conserve battery life but turns on to alert you to upcoming turns, usually 2 miles, 1 mile and one-quarter to one-half mile out. You hear a ding and a verbal command about the upcoming turn, plus the screen turns on briefly, providing you with a heads-up display of a map showing your location and where you’re turning.

2013-12-26 15.00.33I used Glass for the first long-distance trip since receiving it when I went to Chicago a few days ago. Here’s a snippet from that post:

I used the device to navigate from our home in Michigan and it performed admirably. At one point, driver error caused us to miss an exit we needed. Glass simply rerouted and took us where we needed to go without a fuss…Once we hit the city, the turn-by-turn directions with verbal notifications and overview map on the display were a blessing as we weaved our way through traffic. I found this to be the most non-distracting form of GPS navigation I’ve ever driven with because I never took my eyes off the road or surrounding vehicles.

In my many years of driving, navigational aids have evolved from paper maps and printable directions to stand-alone GPS units and cell phone apps plus in-dash navigation screens. Having used all of them, I would argue that I now have at my disposal less-distracted driving via Google Glass. (You can also use Glass to receive turn-by-turn directions for transit routes and while walking. Sightseeing in a big city with Glass is also covered in my Chicago post.)

The screen for Glass sits just above your right eye — Google says ratio-wise it’s like seeing a 25-inch screen from about 8 feet away. But it’s up and out of your line of sight where you can quickly glance up at it, never really needing to take your eyes off of what is outside your windshield. If you really need to look more closely at the overview map, you can tilt your head down and look through Glass instead of at it, providing a true heads-up overlay on your windshield. Compare either of those maneuvers with glancing down at a paper map folded over on your steering wheel, trying to read printed directions, glancing down at your cell phone’s tiny screen or looking to the right (and sometimes down) at the screen built in to your vehicle’s dash.

I also like that when you reach your destination, Glass knows this, alerts you and then automatically cancels the navigation feature; there’s no need to activate Glass and tell it to stop directing you.

School busAs for taking pictures, it’s not a necessity that we do this at any time, but many of us do. I’ve received or seen posted online many shots from people of interesting things they’ve seen while behind the wheel. The shots I’ve taken through Glass so far while driving were quick, easy, hands-free and about as non-distracting as anything can be when you’re adding one more task to driving a vehicle.

When you have an active connection to Glass via a tethered cell phone for navigation, you also will receive alerts and notifications you’ve set up, so, yes, people could be trying to do things like looking at an email that has come in while driving. I don’t recommend this and wonder if Google couldn’t devise some sort of lock-out for it. It seems reasonable to me that if Glass detects you are traveling over a certain speed that notifications are disabled. That might complicate things for transit riders, but maybe someone smarter than me could devise a way to make this work.

Or, we could rely on people to use common sense. I know that’s a lot to ask considering how many things people are already doing in their cars besides driving, but I don’t see laws being proposed against many of those. Unfortunately, there are three states where uninformed or misinformed legislators have already put bills in to make driving with Glass illegal. That sound you just heard was that of an overzealous legislator’s knee jerking.

If the government is going to ban Glass for being too distracting, then let’s line up all the other offenses too: using cell phones, using GPS units (stand alone and in-dash), using paper maps, applying makeup, eating, drinking beverages, reading, DVD players, CD players, mp3 players, radios (especially satellite ones), kids, pets, heating and air conditioning systems, heated seats, women’s purses, briefcases, storage consoles, power windows, power mirrors and the many other things that distract you from staring straight ahead every second of every moment you are behind the wheel.

Actually, all of those things should be banned before Google Glass, because I don’t need to look anywhere but straight ahead when I’m using that, unless I’m staring in disbelief at what the driver next to me is doing.

One comment on “Less-distracted driving via Google Glass

  1. Ari,
    Well said. I used turn-by-turn directions with my Google Glass over the summer on several motorcycle rides and found it much safer than taking my eyes off the road to read a street sign. I wish legislators would experience it themselves before legislating it.


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