In today’s hectic modern world, the mobile phone has become such a crucial communications asset that few people can cope with any downtime in its usage, even while walking. This was rarely a problem for those making voice calls, especially after the advent of Bluetooth headsets, as users can easily make and receive phone calls as they wander.
However the on-screen intensive activities of messaging—SMS, email, IM—and huge upsurge in other visual smartphone applications means that many mobile users need to look down at a screen much more than ever. It is unrealistic to expect them to want to stop walking while looking at their mobile phone screens and jabbing at keys or flicking touch screens, so there is a growing risk of pedestrian collision and more serious accidents involving otherwise pre-occupied mobile users.
Fortunately, advances in micro radar technologies have helped produce a solution which will allow mobile users to keep their gaze on their beloved mobile screen, while being warned of trouble ahead. The first product to market is from French start-up, AuReM, who offer augmented reality applications for mobile phones. It has developed a simple mobile solution for human collision avoidance (HCA), called Direction over Head (DoH).
The system uses a tiny transceiver, which is attached to the forehead of the mobile subscriber and beams two directional radar signals to their front and either side, which are then reflected off other pedestrians or larger moving objects such as vehicles. The echo responses are then transmitted via Bluetooth to the mobile phone and interpreted to produce a two-dimensional object map and an understanding of speed and position of the incoming ‘threats’. This can be displayed in a similar manner to an augmented reality application as an overlay on the screen.
AuReM’s VP of marketing, Avril Une, states it does not matter what application the user is engaged in with their head down—sending a text, playing a game, browsing a webpage—they will see the echo signals of objects that are approaching them, and can take evasive action. The application can be tuned to be sensitive in quieter rural spaces or filter out the clutter of distant or slow moving objects in busy urban areas. It can even make sounds which escalate in tone, much like the reversing alert systems available on many cars, although AuReM accepts that this may interfere with those users listening to music or actively engaged in game play. However this may be a small price to pay for avoiding being knocked over by a careless shopper or a number 73 bus.
While AuReM have been very pleased with the trials it has conducted so far, with fewer than 5% of incoming objects not being picked up by the system (only those moving faster than 20km per hour), it is far from complacent. Further developments are planned to focus on the radar transceiver and making it more discrete.
One idea is to combine its function with ear jewellery so it can be unobtrusively worn all the time, although this requires the transceiver to be split into two devices—one attached to each ear—to ensure that the two dimensional positional image is formed. This means some additional setup in the Bluetooth operation but perhaps more problematically some alignment of the devices due to the variation of sizes of peoples faces or ear positions and this can only really be performed once the devices are fitted to the ear. Given their existing knowledge of ear positions, AuRem think this might be a service that a dispensing optician could deliver.
One thing is clear, given the growth in adoption of smartphones and sophisticated applications that demand mobile users’ attention, combined with the basic human need to keep walking even when their head is down reading or touching their mobile devices, products like this will become more widespread. Many more head down mobile users will be saying ‘DoH’.