A new research paper titled “Does wearable device bring distraction closer to drivers? Comparing smartphones and Google Glass” shows how wearables make drivers less safe. That almost certainly doesn’t come as a surprise but what is interesting is how the underlying mechanics of that phenomenon seem to work. The study, conducted by researchers around the globe, seems to suggest that there could be some benefits to using a wearable over a smartphone. However, those seem to be canceled out completely by entirely new problems raised by the technology itself.
For the study, researchers from five different organizations and educational institutions gathered data to compare driving with a smartphone to driving with Google’s mostly defunct Google Glass. Those were used in a virtual driving simulation for safety purposes. So this centers predominantly around the use of AR-enabled smart wearables which are interacted with via voice commands. The participants in the study were sent incoming messages, with auditory cues signaling new messages. The use of voice to respond sped up interactions significantly and helped keep the drivers’ eyes on the road. However, it also quickly became a case of convenience leading to more frequent usage. While those with smartphones were distracted for longer, they tended to be less willing to respond to incoming messages. However, the ease with which responses could be sent led to a much higher rate of responses with Google Glass, effectively eliminating any positive gains from using the technology.
The relevance of the study could be far-reaching, and not just because Google Glass could see a comeback in the near future. Other companies are already developing their own, similar smart eyewear. The real problem may be that AR is also expected to become a major part of the in-vehicle experience over the next several years. In fact, it is expected to play a pivotal part in everything ranging from self-driving vehicle displays to modern iterations of more traditional navigation systems. For now, at least, it seems as though the companies behind these innovations may need to step back and reevaluate the functionality of AR wearables and displays as the ever-present danger of combining communications and transportation still appears to be a problem that’s here to stay.