The average city street these days sports quite a number of people gazing down into their phones as they walk, unable to tear their eyes from a text or email, or gabbing away to their second cousin while checking their manicure. If you are among those who prefer to walk upright, watching for oncoming semis, you may have noticed that these people don’t look at walk signals to tell when to cross; instead, they wait until their peripheral vision picks up a phoneless pedestrian making a move for it. I am frequently in that pedestrian, and am not above making occasional false starts to watch people jerk like fish on a line. Sorry, folks.
But! A day is coming when these phone addicts may no longer need to watch you from the corner of their eyes to gauge when it’s safe to cross. Scientists at Dartmouth and University of Bologna have built an app that will alert these pedestrians when collision with an oncoming vehicle is imminent with a helpful series of vibrations and chirrups.
The app, called WalkSafe, uses the phone’s built-in camera to watch traffic and apply vision learning algorithms to identify car-like objects, going on to identify the object’s direction of movement and current speed. It can pick up cars as far away as 160 feet, and if the vehicle is moving at more than 30 mph, the phone will ring and buzz in warning.
However, the camera on the front of the phone does have to be facing traffic. If you’re gazing down into your screen to trade lulz with your bestie, even WalkSafe can’t save you.
[via Technology Review]
For those of us for whom multitasking is a high art, a South Korean retail experiment combining grocery shopping with commuting looks like a godsend.
In a bid to boost online sales, grocery retailer Tesco covered the walls of a Korean subway station with photos of its merchandise arranged on store shelves. Each item was endowed with a QR code, those black-and-white squares recognized by smartphones, and commuters on their way in to work could snap pictures of the codes with phones to fill a virtual shopping cart. They paid for their items via an app, and the food was delivered to their homes after they got home from work.
No after-work grocery shopping crush, no squeaky-wheeled carts, no post-apocalyptic check-out lines. Just a little less time devoted to playing Angry Birds on the platform.
Here’s a good use for augmented reality: directing clubgoers to the bars that have the best odds for meeting persons of their preferred gender. And how do you figure that out? Well, a start-up company called SceneTap is doing it with facial recognition.
Do bees have a use for smartphones? Sure: Bee researchers have found a way to harness a smartphone’s accelerometer technology to predict when the queen honeybee will leave her hive–thereby allowing keepers to thwart the loss of up to half their bees.
In a phenomenon known as “swarming,” the flight of a queen honeybee can lead to the loss of half of the hive. As the queen bee makes her exit, many of the bees follow their leader–and with the departure of both its queen and half of its workers, the remaining hive is severely weakened. But if beekeepers know when the queen bee will leave, they can attract the departing bees with another, strategically positioned hive.
The art of predicting when a queen honeybee will leave has a long history. “In the spring time, many clues … demonstrate the proximity to swarming, such as the presence of more or less mature queen cells,” the researchers explain in their paper. “In spite of this the actual date and time of swarming cannot be predicted accurately…” But that was before beekeepers harnessed the power of smartphone technology.
Doing good is getting easier. Soon, you’ll be able to do your civic duty of reporting potholes without even lifting a finger. The city of Boston is working on a smartphone app that would automatically report potholes to authorities–making it easier to find and fill the more than 19,000 potholes Boston grapples with each year.
The in-development Street Bump app uses a smartphone’s GPS and accelerometer technology to register the moment when a car lurches into a pothole and to identify the location. No need for the driver to call or email city officials, the app just goes ahead and sends the message on its own.
Cell phones will soon make a giant leap for mankind–right into outer space. In the coming year, British engineers from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) plan to send a cell phone into orbit to test whether cell phones are tough enough to withstand outer space, and whether they’re powerful enough to control satellites. As the BBC reports:
“Modern smartphones are pretty amazing,” said SSTL project manager Shaun Kenyon…. “They come now with processors that can go up to 1GHz, and they have loads of flash memory…. We’re not taking it apart; we’re not gutting it; we’re not taking out the printed circuit boards and re-soldering them into our satellite – we’re flying it as is,” Mr Kenyon explained.
The jury’s still out as to what cell phone model will be the world’s first orbital smartphone–but the scientists have already decided to pick one that uses Google’s Android operating system. That software is open source, allowing the engineers to tweak the phone’s functions. Not every phone, after all, comes off the shelf with the ability to navigate a nearly 12-inch-long, GPS-equipped, pulsed-plasma thruster satellite.