Road Work Ahead: Automobiles and Augmented Reality

With still about a week left to go, Hudway’s Kickstarter campaign, which began last Wednesday for its augmented reality vehicle accessory, already has over 6,500 backers pledging more than $450,000—several times its initial $100,000 goal. According to its Kickstarter page, Hudway made the vehicle accessory, which turns your smartphone into a head-up display (HUD) for any car, “because we’re tired of waiting for others,” likely alluding to future endeavors by other automotive or tech companies like AR Driving Goggles from Mini, an AR system from Facebook, or an AR eyeglass-like device from the Google-backed startup MagicLeap. The success of the campaign suggests consumers are excited for this particular application of augmented reality. But even though the arrival of this once futuristic technology may be right around the corner, the necessary changes to the legal landscape that will allow and integrate the technology look a bit farther back in the rearview mirror.

Although most of the focus on distracted driving laws involves hand operation of smartphones while driving (e.g., texting and driving), a traffic citation for wearing Google Glass while driving caused a bit of stir in the tech world in late 2013. Unbeknownst to many consumers, a number of states have laws prohibiting the use of electronic visual displays unless the use falls under certain exceptions, regardless of whether the use is hand-operated.

In the Google Glass case, the officer cited the driver pursuant to California’s Vehicle Code Section 27602, which prohibits a driver from having an electronic display operating when it is visible to the driver, except under certain circumstances. For example, the foregoing prohibition does not apply if the electronic display is (1) a vehicle information display; (2) a global positioning display; (3) a mapping display; or (4) a visual display used to enhance or supplement the driver’s view forward, behind, or to the sides of a motor vehicle for the purpose of maneuvering the vehicle.

The Google Glass case was ultimately dismissed due to lack of evidence that the driver’s Google Glass was turned on when the officer pulled the driver over. Nonetheless, this incident foreshadows the legal issues both companies and customers may face as the automotive industry (as well as others) adopts AR technology and offers it to the masses for navigation or other related purposes.

When it comes to AR technology in vehicles (and elsewhere), the founders of Hudway are hardly the only ones “tired of waiting.” But the paving of legal in-roads takes time, and navigating new construction is never simple.