Upfront

Move over, smartphones. Google Glass, the Google-made eyeglasses that allow users to snap pictures, send text messages or share on social media via a spoken command, could soon be the nation's next driving distraction. But thanks to research by psychologist Jibo He, PhD, of Wichita State University, the eyewear could improve safety for people who are at risk for operator fatigue, such as pilots and truck drivers.

He, who bought the Explorer version of Google Glass the company made available to select applicants last spring, is using eye-tracking technology and a driving simulator to study whether people are more distracted when driving with Google Glass than with smartphones. So far, He is finding that while distraction-free drivers perform best, those using smartphones swerve longer and more frequently than those using Google Glass.

He has also built an app for Google Glass called "Glass Fatigue Detector" that tracks a person's blinking and head rotation to monitor drowsiness. The app tells the driver to pull over and rest when his or her driving behaviors have become dangerous. "If your eye is closed for longer than 400 milliseconds, then you are almost asleep," says He, who runs Wichita State's Human Automation Interaction Lab. Wichita State has applied for a patent for the Google Glass app on He's behalf.

He is one of about 10,000 people testing and conducting research on the multimedia eyewear through the Google Glass Explorers program, which launched last spring. Physicians, for example, are using Google Glass to broadcast surgeries or patient visits to train medical students or consult colleagues from afar.

Meanwhile, He is also seeking opportunities to apply his fatigue detection technology to the aviation industry.

"Fatigue is involved in at least 4 percent to 8 percent of aviation mishaps and each year driver fatigue causes about 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12 billion financial losses," says He. "The technology can help reduce accidents and save lives."

— Jamie Chamberlin