Will Google Glass distract a driver?

Industry explores many uses of wearable devices

Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz will let drivers use Google Glass before or after driving to find destinations.

LAS VEGAS -- Is Google Glass a clever way to transmit collision warnings to the motorist? Or is it just another potential distraction -- best employed before or after a trip?

The auto industry is about to find out.

At International CES, the consumer electronics show here, automakers and others showcased a variety of uses for wearable devices such as Google Glass.

Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz both announced plans to integrate Google Glass into their infotainment systems this year. And Harman International is tinkering with an app that would use it to display collision warnings.

There are some key differences in their approach to Google Glass, an eyeglasslike device that nestles an Internet browser by the viewer's right eye. By using voice commands and a small touchpad on the frame, the user can get maps and directions, take pictures, check the weather and so forth.

Because of its $1,500 price tag, Google Glass is still a novelty item, although sales will grow as prices decline.

Harman's developers view Google Glass as a useful conduit for safety warnings while a vehicle is in motion. That's because motorists can spot a warning icon on the Google Glass pane without taking their eyes off the road.

But Hyundai Motor Co. and Mercedes-Benz view it as a device to be worn before or after a trip but not while a vehicle is in motion.

Navigation aid

Last year, Mercedes executives described Google Glass as a navigation aid that could be integrated with a vehicle's mapping system.

At the start of a trip, motorists could download their destination from Google Glass into the vehicle's navigation system. After arriving at the parking lot, motorists would use Google Glass to locate their destination on foot.

When they are ready to return home, they could use Google Glass to locate the parking lot.

"This is an example of a seamless transition as you stay connected when you get to your car, when you drive, and when you leave your car," Johann Jungwirth, head of Mercedes' North American r&d, told Automotive News Europe in October. "We obviously don't want people using Google Glass when they drive."

Hyundai has similar uses in mind. This month, the Korean automaker announced plans to integrate Google Glass with the infotainment system of the 2015 Genesis, which debuts in the spring.

The Korean automaker assigned Covisint, a software company headquartered in Detroit, to integrate Google Glass with Hyundai's Blue Link infotainment system.

In its Jan. 2 statement, Hyundai listed several possible uses: maintenance reminders, remote start, remote door-locking, vehicle finder and point-of-interest destination downloads.

"We're always exploring new ways to use technology to enhance the ownership experience for our customers," Barry Ratzlaff, Hyundai Motor America's executive director of Customer Connect, said in a written statement. "Wearables are a great way to extend the experience outside of the vehicle."

Collision warning

Harman International, a producer of infotainment software and hardware, is trying another approach. The company has developed an app that displays collision warnings to a motorist via Google Glass.

To receive that warning, a driver never has to take his eyes off the road, said Harman Vice President Alon Atsmon.

Google Glass is a promising, low-cost alternative to head-up displays, he said. Harman is prepared to market it as original equipment or as an aftermarket add-on.

"I think the Google Glass is a perfect opportunity" to introduce a cost-effective collision warning system, Atsmon said.

It may be awhile before automakers figure out the best uses for Google Glass. Hyundai and Mercedes are adopting a conservative tack, promoting it for car owners while they're on foot.

But if automakers seek low-cost alternatives to head-up displays, Google Glass may get a look.

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com

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