Google Glass Gets Road Test

Traffic data provider Inrix believes Google Glass has a future on the highway.
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Google wants people to see Glass as a fashion accessory. But the company might be better off promoting its wearable computing device as an automotive option.

Glass is hard to justify when there's a mobile phone at hand. But it becomes more interesting when hands are the issue, as can be seen in Dr. Christopher Kaeding's recent use of Glass during surgery.

Doctors need their hands to operate and drivers need their hands to operate their vehicles. When driving, you shouldn't be handling a mobile phone, if you value your life or the lives of those around you. You shouldn't even be looking at one.

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Glass seems like it fits in the category of distracting devices. Google says as much in its FAQs about Glass, noting that whether one can drive with Glass "depends on where you are and how you use it." The company advises Glass users to read up on state laws, since most states have passed laws that ban the use of mobile devices while driving. At the same time, Google has responded to calls for such laws by noting that Glass has "tremendous potential to improve safety on our roads and reduce accidents."

Mike Arcuri, VP of mobile at traffic data company Inrix, has come to more or less the same conclusion. In a phone interview, he explained that people at his company have been intrigued by the heads-up display in the current BMW 535 and joined Google's Glass Explorer program to see if Glass could be used the same way.

Arcuri said he's been using Glass with custom Glassware in his car for over a week and that he has been favorably impressed. "It seems very safe to me," he said, particularly compared to the "constant temptation most drivers have" to use their phones while driving or waiting at traffic lights.

"When I wear Glass, the screen isn't in my eyes and the voice interface is very good," he said. "The cards our app sends are not really distracting. If you do move your eyes up to read, it's less dangerous than fumbling around with an unlock code or struggling to get Siri to understand what you're saying."

Though Inrix on Thursday is releasing version 5 of its free Traffic app for iOS and Android -- as well as dropping the price of premium feature access from $25 to $10 -- it isn't yet providing any Glass integration. But you can get a sense of what Glass-assisted navigation might look like in Inrix's proof-of-concept video.

The company suggests that Glass will allow it to provide services such as re-routing notifications for traffic avoidance, easy image capture and sharable incident reporting, estimated-time-of-arrival messages to friends and family, and even reports of estimated driving time savings.

Arcuri said Inrix isn't ready to release a version of its experimental Glass software. "But as we continue to work with our partners, we're very interested in wearable computing, on-dash displays and other surfaces that can provide drivers with contextual information," he said.

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