An academic research letter published in the Nov. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) addresses a potentially serious deficiency in the design of the Google Glass heads-up display eyewear.
Since its introduction via a wide public evaluation program, Google Glass has created a great deal of debate over it opening up new possibilities for communication and Web connectivity on the one hand and being an impractical and transient fad on the other.
Part of the controversy has been around the issue of when and where it's acceptable to wear the Glass units. Bans in bars and movie theaters are in place because of the camera feature of the wearable computer, and there have been sporadic attempts to arrest people for cell phone use while driving.
Now, a scientific study identifies a major issue. Doctors at several West Coast ophthalmology schools, including the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California Irvine, are reporting that Google Glass seriously reduces peripheral vision, blocking as much as 10 degrees of vision.
The testing was done with just a small sample of three participants, but a detailed analysis of 311 photographs of Glass users was used to qualify the positioning of the Glass headset in typical use, which the researchers believe adds validation and generalization to the testing.
Dr. Tsontcho Ianchulev, the lead writer of the article, reported that he had almost gotten into a car accident while wearing Glass himself, which stimulated him to explore the issue.
The study compared Glass to regular eyewear using standard ophthalmology tests. In an interview with CBS News, Ianchulev commented, "We found the frame of the Google Glass cuts out a portion of your vision that prevents a user from seeing things on the right side of their visual field."
Loss of peripheral vision is a serious issue when driving or even just walking around. While only the center of the visual field is in focus, movement in the peripheral area generates an alert to possible danger and is the key to safe navigation.
The report has been passed on to Google for its review. "We do think this is a fixable problem because it is a framewear issue, not a software problem," Ianchulev told CBS. This likely involves moving the electronics package to a new position above the right arm piece, which should not be difficult, though it will be difficult to capture the sleek look of the current design.
But it's a problem that will have to be solved before Google Glass is released to the general public, noted Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Consulting Group.
"I'm a Glass user, and I've seen the vision blocking problem. I can't see the right side peripherally when driving or walking. This is going to involve some serious design and philosophy changes," Moorhead said.
"Glass has a serious black eye in the market right now and is something of a pariah," he said. "The elitist market campaign appears to have backfired." Google will have to improve both the design and overall public image of Glass before it sends it into volume production, Moorhead suggested.
In the meantime, use of the existing Glass units while driving poses a significant risk. Combined with the distraction level of the display while driving, this may increase calls for a ban when operating a car or other machinery. To avoid liability, Google will need to issue a warning about wearing the Glass unit while driving.
Other companies are designing similar kinds of Web-connected headsets, and this study will likely affect their products as well, which are expected to enter the market over the next 18 months. The study may bolster calls for legislated constraints on personal displays.