Published May 13, 2013
With the popularity of action cameras from GoPro and Contour in motorsports, it was only a matter of time before the video camera-equipped Google Glass found its way onto a racetrack. And that time is now.
Actually, it was last week when we took one to the Monticello Motor Club for a lap of the track in a Cadillac CTS-V. Stick all of the GoPros you want onto your helmet, you won’t get closer to your own point of view than one of these.
That is assuming you can get it on under your helmet. In its current “Explorer” beta form, it has a small but chunky CPU/Battery housing built into the right temple of the device that makes it a little tough to jam between the padding of a helmet and your skull. Open face designs seem to work best, but it’s still difficult to get it into position as perfectly as when your head is au naturel.
Unfortunately, our original plan to bring it with us during a test drive of the raucous Aston Martin Vantage GT4 race car was nixed by a scheduling conflict, thanks to the hot device's popularity around the Fox News offices, which turned out to be a bit of a shame.
On the day we finally made it to Monticello, the track was damp and not fully closed or staffed, so our speed was limited. But that might be for the better. We weren’t there to set a record, simply to see how the Google Glass performs as an in-car camera. We’ll leave the first accident recorded on it for someone else to share.
As for our experience, considering the size of the camera, basically what you get in a smartphone, the image quality was excellent. It shoots at 720p resolution, not full HD, but the result was a picture with color and clarity on par with or better than many of the last generation action cameras. The angle of view is wide, but not crazy fisheye wide, and there is none of that wobbly jelly effect endemic to video shot on cameras like the GoPro Hero.
Changes in contrast were handled with noticeably abrupt exposure steps, however, and while thirty minutes of footage used about 1gb of the 12gb of memory available, it also drained nearly all of the battery, so bring your recharger to fill up between lapping sessions.
Most impressive was the audio quality. The built-in microphone is very voice-centric, and cuts out much of the ambient noise. Upon hearing it for the first time, my editors thought I’d laid down the audio track in a studio. It’s really that clear. Wind will rustle it, but inside a car with closed windows it lets in just the best of the background noise.
If they can get the form factor down a size or two by the time it enters production, the Google Glass is potentially a much less cumbersome way to preserve your hot laps than all the clamps and suction mounts you have to deal with today. And as silly as it looks while walking down the street, with the tinted shield attached it’s much cooler than having a camera stuck to the top or side of your helmet.
An even more interesting prospect is the Google Glass’ potential to wirelessly feed live video via Wi-Fi or a tethered smartphone while you’re on track, turning it into a personalized version of Speed. Granted, devices like the Looxcie can already do this sort of thing, but they don’t also let you search the internet for lug nut torque settings via voice commands, or help you find the nearest place to get a nitrogen fill for your tires. Down the road, the possibility of using it as a head-up display for live diagnostic and performance applications like Dynolicous Fusion could render dash-mounted gauges and monitors redundant.
Although it’s surely not being optimized for use in automobiles, the likelihood that the production version of the Google Glass will have a higher resolution camera and a smaller size that’s better integrated into its frame could make this a very popular option at the track.
In the meantime, while we were at Monticello, the Executive Vice President of the facility came rolling by on his Segway, as EVPs often do, and we couldn’t resist taking it for a spin, literally. The Google Glass was in its element in this situation, unfettered from the confines of a helmet and getting a little quality time with the only thing on the planet that could possibly make you look like more of a nerd than wearing it. Of course, that image may change in a hurry once someone named Kurt or Travis or Dario shows up at a race wearing one.