Glass Traffic app throws wearables back into driver safety discussion

A new traffic app for Google Glass is likely to throw the safety aspects of wearables back into question, as new hands-free technology butts heads with more traditional dashboard displays like Apple's new CarPlay. Traffic, the handiwork of Glass developer GlassVuz, fills in one of the gaps in the Google headset's navigation system, bringing real-time traffic data to the head-up display.

While Glass has a comprehensive navigation app, which can give directions for driving, walking, and public transportation, what it doesn't yet do is show the severity of traffic problems. Instead, wearers would need to pull out their phone and consult Google Maps' color-coded road markings, introducing a new distraction in the process.

The Traffic app – currently in invitation-only beta, and requiring users sideload it to their Glass – instead adds a new "traffic" keyword. Saying "OK Glass, traffic" pulls up a map of the current location with the Google Maps traffic layer over the top.

It's a simple solution to the uncertainty of knowing whether a jam is likely to clear up any time soon, but proposed regulations about driver distraction while sporting wearable technology could see it – and similar apps – scuppered before they have a chance to save drivers from headaches.

In question is whether a head-mounted display would prove more or less of a distraction from the road versus, say, a more traditional touchscreen in the center console, or even a head-up display projected onto the windshield. Google has stepped up its lobbying efforts in states where blanket bans on wearables like Glass have been proposed, arguing that the technology is too immature to legislate around at this stage.

However, critics counter with the suggestion that Google is looking to protect a new potential source of revenue rather than aiming to protect the progress of technology itself.

The controversy is unlikely to go anywhere soon, given Apple wading into the infotainment segment with CarPlay, the new branding for "iOS in the Car", announced earlier today. That pipes apps and content from an iPhone or iPad to the integrated touchscreen already in cars from Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, and others. Meanwhile, Google is tipped to have a similar "Projected Mode" for Android in the pipeline as well.