Driving with Glass: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Here at Esurance, opinions are split on how driving with Glass might impact both the safety and sanity of our roads.

As the whizzes at Google work feverishly to blur the line between sci-fi fantasy and real-world computing yet again, the online community is buzzing with optimism, speculation, and even a little dread. Everyone seems to have an opinion on whether Google Glass will simplify modern life or serve as another distraction for a generation of tech junkies more likely to tweet than talk face to face. Here at Esurance, opinions are equally split on how this new technology will play out, and even more so with how driving with Glass might impact the safety and sanity of our roads.

As our very own Steven Mautone (Esurance’s web production manager) eagerly awaits his beta version of Google Glass, conversation around the office swirls with lively debate regarding potential possibilities … and potentially deadly pitfalls.

Driving with Glass: the possibilities

Easier navigation

If you’ve ever driven down the road while frantically typing an address into your phone before you get to the next exit (and I’m not saying I have), then you can imagine how much easier it could be to simply say, “Ok, Glass, how do I get to Tommy’s Joynt?” And what if, instead of balancing your phone on your knee and glancing down every 3 seconds to make sure you haven’t missed Geary Street, you could just look up and to the right to ensure you’re still on the right track?

With its hands-free access and ease of use, it’s easy to see how Google Glass might eliminate some of the distraction and stress that often come with trying to find your way around.

A built-in driving buddy

Now imagine if Google Glass could tell you if you’re speeding, remind you to get gas, coach you through changing a tire, or help you to know what to do after an accident. Imagine knowing about traffic jams before you were stuck bumper to bumper. Or having constant updates about how far it is to the next gas station, rest stop, or hotel.

Could Google Glass help you find nearby amenities, let you know road conditions, warn you about accidents, or help you find the best BBQ shack in Tennessee? At this point, who knows. But if it could, it would pretty much be the best driving buddy ever. And you wouldn’t even have to share the beef jerky.

Driving with Glass: the potential pitfalls

Even more distractions

Of course, with all this possibility comes the very real concern that drivers might become even more distracted as they download and process a constant stream of information. As we know from a previous post, manual distraction isn’t the only type of distraction to be concerned about. Cognitive distraction — what we do with our minds — can also play a big part in how focused we are (or aren’t) on the road.

Texting and talking on the phone while driving are considered dangerous and illegal in most states. But people still do them with surprising frequency. It seems our inherently busy lives often overcome our common sense and the need for safety. And while Google Glass eliminates the need for keypads and fumbling around, it seems likely that the increased capability, coupled with the fact that it’s hands free, will only encourage an increased sense of being able to do more while driving.

Even more attempted multi-tasking

With drivers in some of America’s most bustling cities spending upwards of 40 hours a year sitting in traffic, it’s easy to imagine the temptation to spend part of this time trying to get something done. How many times have you seen someone on their laptop or tablet tapping out a quick email while they inch along the highway during their morning commute?

If all it took was a glance up and to the right to find out if a client sent over that contract or if your boss got back to you regarding today’s meeting, would you be able to resist trying to start the work day from the road?

Furthermore, would Google Glass make it easier than ever for people to update on Facebook (“Stuck in traffic, again!!”), check in at the office, or catch up on email in their cars? Would you want to check out your finances before you got to that gas station 17 miles ahead on the left? Or see pictures of the hotel before you arrive to check in?

The jury’s still out on driving with Glass

While we wait for Google Glass to hit the market, we still have more questions than answers. As a modern company, we’re as excited as the rest of the world to see what possibilities this new technology may hold. But as an insurance company, we can’t help but share in some of the concern over what this might mean for driver safety.

Stay tuned for more on the subject as Steven Mautone tests out Google Glass and shares his experiences working, living, and yes, driving with Glass. In the meantime, let us know where you stand. Will Google Glass be a driver’s best friend … or more distracting than anything we’ve seen so far?

Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter #DrivingWithGlass.

Related links

Will Google Glass end distracted driving?
Several states propose outlawing Google Glass while driving
5 far-fetched movie gadgets that really exist

2 Responses to “Driving with Glass: Possibilities and Pitfalls”

  1. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    J Fuchs
    June 21, 2013 #

    Here's an excerpt from a post I just did on google plus:

    "When I did actually leave the meeting, Glass presented the map to Home again, and I used it. A previous attempt at Glass navigation in the car had been harrowing, perhaps because it was in walking mode and I was driving. This time, Glass was excellent: easy to read maps, unobtrusive, and good voice directions. There did seem to be a slight time lag, and the voice could have been a little louder since my car is not quiet, especially on an expressway. In any case, the evening was a good experience. I will keep Glass on the payroll."

    Here's the main point: Glass users should practice using navigation on a quiet street until they understand what its doing. Otherwise, it could get scary. I now find it to be very good and better than carrying my pocket GPS.

  2. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Joshua Brown
    June 28, 2013 #

    I'm a Glass Explorer too and while the walking navigation is FANTASTIC, I'd be a little wary to use the driving navigation unless I was in the passenger seat. It's definitely better than a phone sitting on your lap or down below the dash, but a windshield mounted phone is even better (provided it doesn't obstruct your view). I mount my phone on the driver-side corner where all it obstructs is the frame of the car. In this position it can sit in my periphery and short glances don't take my eyes far from the road. My phone also sends its audio through my bluetooth car stereo, so it's very easy to hear for both music and navigation.

    Contrasted with Glass, glances bring my eyes well above the road and into the area where the visor normally rests. Since it's closer (even with the lensing) my "sphere of awareness" shrinks inward and I'm not as focused on things far away. Audible prompts are difficult to hear (especially with the radio on or moderate road noise), although since it's bone conduction you can at least feel that something is going on, but then you have to glance up to see what it is.

    One strong area for in-car Glass use is, ironically, texting. Incoming texts can be viewed with a quick head nod (i.e. no taking my hands off the wheel) or read back with a couple taps (and probably a hand cupping my ear to hear it). Replying is done by voice and is usually extremely accurate. It can be done without looking except possibly a quick glance confirm that the text was transcribed correctly at the end. Since the microphone is closer it's usually more accurate than a dash-mounted phone's speech recognition, meaning fewer occasions where correction is needed. Also outgoing messages can be done completely hands-free (and mostly eyes-free) using voice prompts.

    I've been wearing Glass on a day-to-day basis for a few weeks now, and I find I typically use driving time as an ideal time to set Glass aside to charge. Based on where it is (above and away from my normal field of vision) I don't feel it would be a distraction, but since it is a new technology I don't want there to be any ambiguity for police officers who may not be familiar with how it works. As the battery improves and the tech becomes more mainstream, though, I think I would reach a point where I just keep it on. As it is I get a bit of "phantom limb" when I'm not wearing it.

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