Google co-founder Sergey Brin took the stage last week at the Code Conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, where he talked about two projects being developed by Google X, the company's research lab. One is Google Glass, which Brin and a growing number of early adapters wear to have constant access to a computer screen attached to an eyeglass frame. The other is a new prototype self-driving car that, unlike the first generation of Google cars, has been built from scratch without a steering wheel or pedals. Earlier prototypes were modified Prius or Lexus vehicles. The new cars look almost like gondolas with wheels.

Code is the conference associated with the tech blog run by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. Mossberg and Swisher started the blog and conference after splitting from Dow Jones, which owned their previous venture, All Things Digital. Mossberg ended his longtime Wall Street Journal technology column and now blogs for

Like co-host Swisher, I'm much more excited about the self-driving car project than Google Glass. Google Glass has its fans -- thousands of people have paid $1,500 for a not ready-for prime-time preview edition of the product, which lets them access maps and Web pages, make calls and take pictures and videos without having to take their phone out. But I'm not convinced it's a life-changing product.

I am very excited about Google's self-driving cars for several reasons. For one, they'll enable drivers to safely multitask. Today it's not safe to text while driving and even a bit dangerous to talk on the phone. I didn't have an accident, but I arrived at the Code Conference late because I was using my speaker phone to conduct a conference call while traveling on Los Angeles freeways and wound up missing an offramp. My eyes were on the road and my hands on the wheel, but my mind was elsewhere.

With a self-driving car, you could focus all your attention on work or entertainment while the computer worries about traffic, offramps and avoiding running over pedestrians. Although the cars are not immune to accidents, Brin pointed out that they are likely to be safer than regular cars because they take out the human element. About 30,000 people are killed on U.S. highways annually and, according to the World Health Organization, there were approximately 1.24 million traffic deaths worldwide in 2010.

Most of these deaths are a result of human error, compounded by bad judgment. Computers aren't perfect, but they never drink while driving. And even if they do text, they, unlike humans, have the processing power to multitask. Computers don't have road rage and they don't let their speed creep up for no apparent reason. They don't make last-minute decisions to try to run a light or avoid a complete stop at a stop sign. I've flown in the cockpit of planes with autopilot, which are a lot safer than the ones I used to fly, when I had to make all the decisions and manually work the controls.

The other thing I love about self-driving cars is that they can provide independence to people who can't drive because of disabilities, illness, age and other reasons. An early Google video showed a blind employee, "driving" from his home to a local coffee shop without having to seek assistance from another person. That's worth a lot.

There are plenty of different business models for self-driving cars. Some might be owned and garaged at home, just like regular cars. But Brin envisions fleets of cars being operated as driverless taxi cabs, picking people up, taking them to their destination and moving on to serve the next passenger. If nothing else, it could ease the parking situation, which occupies an enormous amount of time and real estate.

Look around and notice how much space is taken up by parked cars that could be used for other purposes. I've seen estimates that as much as 30 percent of San Francisco traffic is drivers looking for parking spaces. Wouldn't it be nice if you could simply step out of the car and let it either go pick someone else up or drive someplace where it could easily find a parking spot and then pick you up later?

Contact Larry Magid at Listen for his technology chats on KCBS-AM (740) weekdays at 3:50 p.m.