Could auto buyers in the near future get a free Google Glass thrown in with the purchase of a new Chevy?
Tim Mahoney, global CMO for General Motors' Chevrolet, confirmed that Google held a demonstration for the automaker. GM executives tried on the smart glasses for size to see how they operate.
"I think it's pretty cool," said Mr. Mahoney during an interview in New York. "The demo that I saw was pretty fascinating. But I don't know. I think it's going that way…It's going to come at some point," he added.
Why an automaker and Google would team up for a Glass deal is unclear. The most obvious approach would be as part of a navigation system. But if Glass already has navigation built in, why would a user be tempted toward one particular car brand over another? And auto companies would need a lot of convincing to embrace Glass an alternative to their own nascent Heads-Up Display and navigation systems, said Carroll Lachnit, features editor at Edmunds.com.
Of course, announcing a deal with Google could give an automaker a bit of buzz in the tech world. The $1,500 prototypes are currently only being used by a few thousand influential early adopters, or "Glass Explorers" as Google calls them.
And an argument could be made that the roads would be made safer by cutting down on the number of auto accidents caused by distracted driving. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,321 people were killed, and another 387,000 injured, in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2011, the last full year numbers were available.
Wearing Google Glass, drivers can better keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel -- rather than looking down or sideways at a mobile phone or on-board navigation screen.
But Glass critics aren't thrilled with the idea of drivers getting behind the wheel wearing a high-tech gadget that could potentially disrupt their vision and concentration.
Earlier this year, transportation authorities in the United Kingdom moved to ban British drivers from wearing Glass. Concerned that Glass could become as big a distraction to young, tech-savvy drivers as texting behind the wheel, West Virginia lawmakers introduced a bill to ban drivers from using a "wearable computer with a head-mounted display."
Even if hands-free Glass helps drivers keep eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel, it can still cause "cognitive" distraction, said Ms. Lachnit.
"You can see what's in front of you. But you may not have your attention fully engaged in the business of driving," she said.
In fact, the cover story for the Aug. 24 issue of ScienceNews was "Under the Influence: Why Even Hands-Free Calls Seriously Impair Driving."
Even Mr. Mahoney agreed. "I still think at the end of the day whether you're looking down here, or looking straight up, there's still some potential to be distracted. You're driving the car, your kids are screaming in the back, your wife is trying to talk to you. It's about how much attention you can put straight ahead."
Google declined to comment on its meeting with Chevrolet or whether it's holding similar demos for other auto makers. But Google executives are said to privately express frustration with misperceptions about Glass. The smart glasses don't cover your eyes, for example, but sit above them, out of your line of vision. Glass' default position is off. Explorers have to tap the frame to activate.
So rather than seeing a constant stream of directions, Glass could potentially give drivers short illuminated message when it's time to make a turn -- before powering down again.
"It's early days and we are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues. Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology," said a Google spokesman in a statement.