April 22nd, 2013

Ignoring the Lawyers (Sports Glasses Edition)

Oakley-LogojpgOh look! Another shiny new gadget! What could possibly go wrong, besides, you know, everything?

From the New York Times yesterday:

Oakley, the eyewear company, makes a $600 ski goggle that comes with a warning in the package: Do not operate product while skiing.

Zeal HD camera goggles allow athletes to make videos.

It is an admonition that should be taken with a grain of salt, said Chris Petrillo, a product manager at the company. Of course, he said, the digital goggles are meant for skiing and snowboarding.

“Welcome to the world of lawyers and litigation,” he said.

But maybe the lawyers are on to something.

There are lots of people out there that like to make fun of warning labels, often because they are placed in silly places and say silly things. Like a bag of peanuts that warns it may have been produced in a plant with nut products.

Perhaps Chris Petrillo is one of them. The Oakley lawyers see a dangerous product and then the company laughs at its own lawyers. Because, you know, the lawyers are all just a bunch of chuckleheads. Who would really listen to what the lawyers are saying, right?  Wink. Wink.

So here’s the deal, the article describes a wave of new goggles and sports glasses coming out that give real-time feedback to the participants, right there in the glasses. Video, text messages, phone, the whole enchilada.

But if you are skiing, running, biking, etc., then real time data is exceptionally difficult to receive and process because you are actually engaged in a high octane activity that requires your senses. Even listening to music on an old time Walkman or modern equivalent can be dangerous when used in outdoor sports — a widely ignored warning — as it can distract and disconnect the listener from the environment.

This is not an improvement over a quick glance at the watch, as one industry participant claims in the article. Your eyes still have to refocus to the image and then refocus again to your immediate surroundings.

I wrote about this previously with Google Glass and the dangers of distracted driving. Distracted skiing/biking/running may be slightly less dangerous, but if you’re the person that gets hit by the skier this will not be a consolation.

Want to stick a Go-Pro camera on your chest or helmet to film your family and friends? No problem. Want to put text messages in the users field of vision while they are moving? Big problem. Big problems indeed.

Hospital number crunchers will love this stuff as it will bring in more injured. The goggle company lawyers? Well, they probably get paid by the hour, so perhaps they like it too. Unless, of course, they actually want to protect the company, in which case they aren’t too pleased.


March 25th, 2013

Will Google Glass Kill? (Bumped and Updated)

Google's Sergey Brin models Google Glass. (Credit: James Martin/CNET)

Google’s Sergey Brin models Google Glass.
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

[This was originally posted March 13, 2013. It was bumped and updated on March 25th due to proposed legislation in West Virginia; see below]

The chances of Google Glass being a factor in people being maimed and killed is approximately 100%. If you don’t know what Glass is, it’s the latest and greatest in whiz-bang technology, created apparently, just because it can be created.

Glass is a computer embedded in eye glasses that allows users to be online and see a computer screen in the lenses. It also has a camera.

These are designed, of course, for that segment of the population that forgot the basics of actual human interaction and need to be connected to their digital friends 24/7. Some of the software toys were displayed this past week at the South by Southwest technology conference in Austin.

There are many self-assured people who think they can multi-task; by walking or driving and web surfing at the same time. But people who think they are good at multi-tasking are actually the worst. Our brains aren’t wired that way.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where this leads: Cocky Glass users will walk into intersections and be hit by cars because they are getting a Facebook update on the latest cat video, or tweeting about the latest basketball buzzer beater. There won’t be sympathy for them, of course, as people chalk this up to the culling of the masses with Darwinian behavior.

But what will be important are those that drive with them on, regardless of Google telling them “Don’t do that!” The chance of this is also about 100%, even if Google makes the glasses inoperable when moving faster than x mph.  Folks will figure out a way to disable it, perhaps by killing off the GPS signal, because you know, they need to know how many likes and re-tweets they got for that online joke they cracked. Some things can’t wait. With smart phones we have the entirety of human knowledge in our pockets and this is what we use them for. Ben Franklin would be proud.

The blunt reality is that almost all auto collisions occur due to distracted driving. We see it often with texting, cell phone use, eating and noodling with the knobs on the radio, assuming you can still find a knobbed radio. A moment’s inattention and you won’t see that the car in front of you has stopped. At 55 mph, a car will travel 160 feet in just two seconds — half a football field. The margin of error in driving is preciously small.

Perhaps you think me a bit of a curmudgeonly anti-technology anti-Luddite pining for the old days of Prodigy and dial-up service. But I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think there is substantial backlash already occurring when phones are whipped out at dinner tables so that people can update their status, while ignoring the dinner companions they are actually with.

Google Glass, to the extent it finds any substantial market, will only exacerbate that. But if we are lucky, the backlash will be signficant as more people see what we are losing. Perhaps I’m a dreamer.

I don’t expect to view Google glass users as avante grade, hipster anythings, as these folks will no doubt see themselves. I expect instead, when they do appear, to see them through the prism of my own eyes as people unable to deal with the reality that sits before them.

My two sheqels on the subject. Your mileage may vary.

March 25 update: Legislators in West Virginia have now proposed legislation outlaw driving while using Google Glass, deciding to act even before the product was available on store shelves. According to the CNet article, this bill seeks to make it illegal to drive while “using a wearable computer with head mounted display.”

One of the legislators supporting the bill is Gary G. Howell, who had this to say about the government being proactive with this legislation:

“I am a libertarian, and government has no business protecting us from ourselves, but it does have a duty to make sure I don’t injure or kill someone else,” he explained.

More here: Don’t Glass and drive — lawmakers seek to ban Google Glass on the road