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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Google Glass - Preventing accidents one wink at a time.

Google glasses or “Glass” as they are known have grown in attention so much that politicians have hastily considered regulations even before Glass is publicly released. Currently Glass has reached quite a few hands via the “Explorer” program. I happen to be one of those in the test pilot program as an “Explorer”. As a former federal law enforcement agent, EMT on an ambulance, volunteer fire fighter, security consultant, and military officer working on my third degree in emergency services I see Google Glass as one of the best technological safety advancements of many years. Glass has the capability of greatly reducing vehicular accidents. Vehicle accident prevention is particularly important to me after spending the last 15 years responding to 911 emergency calls.

Distracted driving is one of the ever growing contributors to vehicle based accidents. Distraction.gov evaluates the act of texting labeling it as the largest contributor by removing one’s eyes from the road for 4.6 seconds. “At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded.” (Distraction.gov). Various governmental organizations have attempted to curtail this issue by outlawing the active use of cellphones while driving. Some outlaw just the act of texting while others completely outlaw the use. Yet others permit hands free operation. Even with all of these laws it appears that continual use is more likely than not. People are now found to move their cellphone to their lap while driving in an attempt to not be seen by law enforcement. Focusing now to the lap area only increases that time away from paying attention to the road. Google Glass can reduce this issue and improve on other safety concerns as well. The world is speeding up requiring the governments to modernize with it or get left behind.

Glass has almost an unlimited potential for development of safety based applications. Yet some worry that Glass may prohibit the viewing of the open road. Glass in no way limits one’s viewing angles of the road. I personally tested Google Glass over a 3600 mile road trip passing through some of the most difficult road conditions in snow covered mountainous areas. Peripheral vision is unobstructed. Glass permitted me to maintain my full normal fields of vision including uninhibited use of all mirrors. The screen on Glass consists of a small prism placed just above the right eye. At that distance the prism appears like a flat piece of glass presenting a clear view no different than when a person looks out their own window. Even the images appear in a translucent or transparent state permitting a person to look straight through at objects ahead of them. Glass not only fails to inhibit one’s vision, but it actually enhances the driving experience assisting in the natural short comings of the distracted driver.

While on my 3600 mile Google Glass test pilot trip I encountered various hazardous road conditions. The weather was the worse, but I even had to manage to find a path around a closed section of highway due to a wildfire. Glass alerted me to incoming snow storms, the wildfire, construction, and even pleasant conditions without ever forcing my eyes off the road to reach for my phone. Glass provided all these alerts based on my selected needs via the translucent image just above my eye. Never once did my head turn away from the road in front of me while getting all of these alerts. 4.6 seconds was reduced to zero. All I needed to do was continue to look forward.

Many people within various jobs require them to look off into the distance while still focusing on what is right in front of them. The modern helicopter pilot utilizes a specialized heads up display with one eye while the other looks outside of the cockpit to the horizon. Google Glass eliminates this strain by allowing both eyes to focus on the road and receive the information making Glass operation even safer than the advancements in pilot technology. Yet, Glass can still provide vital feedback including a future which permits more specialized road condition reports, weather, and even distances to the vehicle in front of a person. According to drivingrules.net it will take about 6 seconds to stop at 55 mph. If 4.6 is already gone to texting then 1.4 seconds is all that is left not providing nearly enough time for a person to react. Glass will not only help to keep ones eyes on the road, but it also has the potential to alert a driver that they are following to closely to the car in front. What if that same person would have been looking away at their dashboard attempting to adjust the radio? Through Glass they not only would be alerted to look up, but it is likely the situation would never have happened since Glass has the potential to permit voice control of the radio volume. 

Over the course of the road trip I found myself getting tired. Generally I would stop, but what if I had not judged my sleepiness correctly? Glass is able to detect that so well known head bob that occurs when a person begins to fall asleep while being upright. Now that sleepy person will receive a visual as well as audible alert waking them with the potential of a vibration alert. Not only will Glass notify a sleepy driver of their condition, but it is also packed with the potential to anticipate sharp turns, speeding, fuel levels, and even medical emergencies. Should a medical issue such as a blood sugar change arise Google Glass could provide an early alert to the driver or even alert emergency responders if the issue were to become serious preventing the manual dial of 911.

Google Glass provides a handsfree interface controlled via voice commands, a head nod, or even a wink. Texting is read to the user and responded to though speaking. The potential to prevent car accidents is only a small fraction of the great future for Glass. Yet, life saving technology should never be under appreciated. It was speculated that politicians would try to outlaw the wearing of Google Glass while driving. Due to a misunderstanding of the technology they may contribute to accidents that are actually preventable by allowing Glass to advance and be developed all before it is ever released. 

Dave Schulz
Android Test Pilot
kraisydave@gmail.com

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