Driven from distraction

How to save phone-using motorists from themselves.


HUMAN beings are a distractible bunch, and their propensity to be elsewhere, mentally speaking, is particularly dangerous when they are motoring. Attempts to deal with this go back a long way. In 1953, for example, the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey was fitted with the first rumble strips, which are bits of corrugated concrete that alert an inattentive driver with a rattle and a hum if his vehicle starts to drift off the carriageway while he is, say, paying too much attention to the radio.

These days, though, there is more than just his favourite DJ to distract a driver. In surveys of American motorists, more than two-thirds admit to using mobile phones while driving. Bans on doing so have had mixed success.

The problem is worst among teenagers, already a high-risk group behind the wheel. A study published in March, by the American Automobile Association, a motoring club, reviewed nearly 7,000 videos of teenage drivers who had had monitoring cameras put into their cars between 2007 and 2013 in exchange for cheaper insurance premiums. This analysis found that distraction was a factor in 58% of crashes—four times the figure estimated for this age group from accident reports compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Phone use was the second-greatest contributor to accidents. (Interaction with passengers was top.)

Help may be at hand, though. Research presented on April 20th at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Seoul, South Korea, by Kim SeungJun, Chun Jaemin and Anind Dey of Carnegie Mellon University, in Pennsylvania, shows that yet more technology can ameliorate the problem—not by precluding the use of phones, but by minimising the distraction they cause to drivers of all ages.

Got a second?

Dr Kim, Dr Chun and Dr Dey recruited 25 volunteers, aged from 19 to 69, to make road trips about 20km long. Every volunteer wore five motion sensors—one on each wrist and foot and one on his head—as well as a chest strap that recorded his breathing and heart rates. The car was fitted with an inward-looking camera to observe the volunteer’s “peripheral actions” while driving, such as eating, fiddling with the radio, turning on the windscreen wipers and steering one-handed. A second camera faced outward, to assess the state of nearby traffic. And a “black box” recorder took readings from the car itself, such as the throttle position, slope of the road and engine speed.

From the resulting mountain of data, the three researchers were able to work out the conditions that stressed drivers the most (increasing their heart rates or causing them to hold their breath briefly), and also those that pertained when a driver undertook a peripheral action. Taking such actions, in the view of the researchers, meant that drivers had a bit of cognitive capacity going spare and might thus be interrupted with reasonable safety to, say, listen to a voice translation of an incoming text message.

Obviously, the average driver is not going to want to wear body sensors all the time. But as the team report at the conference, they have used the data they collected to write a piece of software which can, based on inputs from the black box alone, identify the safest moment for an interruption from a phone with 92% accuracy. Moreover, Dr Kim says, a future version of the software could be tweaked to add in personal preferences. One driver might prefer to be interrupted when on a straight, flat road, for example. Another might like to wait until he was stopped at a red light.

Them’s the brakes

Dr Kim, Dr Chun and Dr Dey are not the only people studying the problem of driver distraction. Jeff Greenberg, a technologist at Ford in Dearborn, Michigan is working on a “driver workload manager” that will, for example, delay low-fuel warnings for a few moments if sensors detect the person at the steering wheel is busy with other things.

Another approach is to integrate phones better with a car’s other controls. Manufacturers such as Citroën, Ford and Volvo have already added phone controls to the touchscreen which regulates the vehicle’s air conditioning, navigation system and so on. One improvement in Mr Greenberg’s sights is voice control, extending the limited set of tasks that existing speech-recognition software on smartphones can accomplish. Asking the car to place a call, find a particular song on YouTube or read a What’sApp message aloud beats fiddling with a handset and lets the driver keep his eyes on the road. Google and Apple, authors of the two most widely used smartphone operating systems, are both developing software, called Android Auto and CarPlay respectively, to do that.

Even low-tech approaches still have a part to play. In 2011, the Governors Highway Safety Association, a state-level road-safety watchdog in America, released an extensive report on distracted driving. Among its first recommended countermeasures was the humble rumble strip.

{original from The Economist April 25th, 2015  }


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Hey, Apple Watch User: Don’t Be That Guy!

AAaBADgFor a quick refresher on the importance of good body language, revisit the 1992 town hall-style presidential debate between George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and H. Ross Perot. In the span of two seconds, the incumbent President Bush made what is now regarded as one of the biggest blunders in presidential debate history. He checked his watch.

Pundits and commentators spent weeks analyzing how the gesture made Bush seem disengaged, aloof, uninterested in the concerns of voters. The president, of course, went on to lose the election to the far more engaged Bill Clinton. It’s a reminder that body language matters, and something to keep in mind as Apple Inc. readies the release of its highly anticipated Apple Watch, the company’s first wearable device, which beings pre-orders Friday and goes on sale April 24.

If you’re planning to be one of the first in line to buy the new gadget, etiquette experts urge you to heed the lessons of the one-term President Bush: There’s a time and place for checking your watch, and it’s not during a conversation.

“It signals ‘I’m bored,’” said Diane Gottsman, owner of the Protocol School of Texas and a nationally recognized expert on manners. “Even a few seconds is too long when you’re with another person. We always have to be aware at the distraction.”

AAaBw2TWhile that was true with a regular wristwatch, it’s doubly true with a smartwatch, which delivers a whole host of new alerts, prods and other tantalizing bits of information pleading for a nanosecond of attention. Forget trying not to look: the minute you even think of looking at that watch, your eyes lose focus and whoever you happen to be sitting with immediately knows: I’m less interesting that whatever it is that just hit your wrist.
Worse Than Smartphones

Since the cellphone explosion of two decades ago, each new evolutionary shift in mobile technology has made engaging with our devices easier and more convenient, but embracing new technology shouldn’t mean abandoning basic social mores, according to Elaine Swann, a lifestyle an etiquette expert.

“The person face-to-face with us should still have top priority in our lives,” Swann said. “A simple glance to check your email, or check to see if a call is coming in, that glance really breaks the line of communication with the person in front of you, or the individual you’re engaging with.”

Fortunately, much of the etiquette surrounding mobile technology has already been hashed out. Every group of friends has that one person who won’t stop fiddling with his iPhone at a dinner party or out at a group brunch, but most of us don’t need to be told that too much phone-fiddling is considered rude.

The Apple Watch, accessible with just a twist of the wrist, will make it that much more tempting to sneak a glance, but Swan said your friends will know when they don’t have your full attention, even if they don’t say it. “Our phones have paved the way for recognizing that behavior,” she said. “We now know the body language, when a person has literally left the conversation. We can identify that now. The same is going to ring true with the watch.”

Shut It Down

The same is also true for one-on-one interactions like business lunches or dates. For instance, if you’re wearing the Apple Watch on a first date, don’t use it to surf Tinder while you’re waiting on the appetizers. And if you’re at a job interview, Gottsman said it’s better to be safe than sorry. “I would turn it off completely,” she said. “You don’t want any of the alerts or the fancy bells and whistles going off. If there was a clock on the wall in the office, I wouldn’t be looking at that clock, just like I wouldn’t be looking at the watch on my arm.”

Whatever your thoughts on smartwatches, you won’t be able to avoid them. Global sales of smartwatches are expected to skyrocket to more than 26 million units this year, up from only 4 million in 2014, according to research from GfK, a retail tracking firm.

Don’t be surprised if our manners take a few years to catch up. Anyone who remembers what dining out was like in the mid-1990s — before restaurants instituted no-cellphone polices — will remember the abject horror of being seated next to the bullhorn-voiced Nokia brigade. “With the advent of cellphones, we got worse before we got better,” Gottsman said. “It was new to us. As something because the norm, we learn and we adapt and we start to realize how we’re affecting others when we use that device.”

And while we may not all agree on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, Swann said she doesn’t see technology ever moving us to the point where we sacrifice our innate need for face-to-face connections. “I think we’re always going to have that Ying and Yang to it,” she said. “There are the ones who are so addicted that they just can’t stop, and then the ones who are saying, ‘This is rude and disrespectful, and I need your time.’”


Windows 10 coming to Xiaomi, Lenovo handsets under new Microsoft China deals

Microsoft is turning its attention towards China, striking partnerships with local companies to extend the reach of Windows 10.

At the WinHEC conference on Tuesday, Microsoft announced that Chinese company Lenovo will build at least one Windows 10-powered smartphone for release in China. The device, or devices, will be available through China’s largest carrier China Mobile from the middle of this year.

The deal adds a new smartphone partner to Microsoft’s roster – the announcement marks Lenovo’s first Windows or Windows Phone handset – at a time when over nine in 10 smartphones running Microsoft software are made by the company itself, following its acquisition of Nokia’s devices business last year. It also follows a decision by Huawei, China’s fourth largest smartphone seller, to stop producing Windows Phones.

Perhaps the most interesting announcement to come out of WinHEC, however, was a project to bring Windows 10 to Xiaomi phones. Xiaomi is now the biggest seller of smartphones in mainland China, according to some analysts reports, and one of the fastest growing: it sold 61 million handsets last year, representing year on year growth of over 200 percent.

Microsoft said that it had been working with Xiaomi to allow Chinese users to flash Windows 10 to their Mi 4 handsets.

“Through a new program with Xiaomi, one of the top smartphone distributors in the world, a select group of Xiaomi Mi 4 power users will be invited to help test Windows 10 and contribute to its future release later this year. These power users will have the opportunity to download the Windows 10 Technical Preview – installing it and providing their feedback to Microsoft,” Microsoft wrote in a company blog post.

Windows Phone currently has around 0.8 percent share of the smartphone market in China, according to researchers Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

Away from the smartphone space, Microsoft is also working towards shifting more Chinese users onto Windows 10 for tablets and desktops. The Redmond giant said Lenovo will be offering upgrade help to users in 2,500 outlets in China, while social network TenCent will be offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade to its users and will build a Windows 10 universal app for its QQ messaging service.

Security company Qihou, with whom Microsoft agreed a partnership to jointly develop artificial intelligence and mobile web products, will also offer its users a free upgrade to the next version of Windows.
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Leave It to Denmark to Make a Sleek, Solar-Powered, Electric Bicycle


There was a time when riding a solar-powered bicycle meant covering yourself with so many voltaic contraptions you look like a crazy spy satellite.

But folks who dream of cruising on the power of the sun—and not smashing into low overpasses—can rejoice at the Solar Bike, an electric cycle that can whiz up to a face-chilling speed of 30 mph.

The bike, produced by Denmark’s Jesper Frausig, looks normal except for a couple alterations. There’s a torpedo-shaped battery cannister mounted in the front triangle. And the wheels are solid-black circles, due to solar-paneled skins that look like bike-polo spoke covers.

A full battery can allegedly propel a cyclist for just over 40 miles. When it putters to a stand-still, that’s when the “highly efficient” and “shadow optimized” panels come into play, writes Frausig. They can suck up enough juice on a sunny day to go for 15 more miles. On a cloudy one, though, that distance shortens to about 1 mile.

Frausig is gearing the bike toward city riders, the elderly, and people who get sweaty when they huff and puff on a standard cycle. There’s no word on whether he plans to sell it as a whole or a conversion kit; developments might move forward on that front if the Solar Bike wins at this year’s Index awards.


Friday’s classy smart lock speaks many languages


The attractive Friday Smart Lock trims off the bulk found on many other smart deadbolts and still manages to pack in plenty of features. Currently it’s only going to be shipped in the US and Scandinavia, but given that it’s designed to work with Thread for Google and Nest, as well as Apple’s upcoming HomeKit, Friday looks poised to be a key — or keyless — part of a larger smart home.

With both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built in, the Friday Smart Lock offers remote functionality via an iOS or Android app, as well as a Web dashboard. You should be able to lock and unlock your door from anywhere, and Bluetooth will help with geofencing so it can automatically unlock when you get close.

Attractive possibilities
The Friday Smart Lock should not only unlock when you get close, but should also be able to tell your Nest Thermostat you’re home so it can adjust the temperature accordingly. Alternatively, you can tell Siri to unlock the door or have your Friday lock signal the lamp you have plugged into a HomeKit-compatible switch to turn on. With Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a foot in both Apple’s and Google’s smart home camps, it’s ready to be broadly functional
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IOT Expected to Play a Huge Role

There is some doubt the IOT(Internet of Things) revolution is coming, and it will fundamentally change the way people interact with different devices. Still, for the last several years, most of the focus has been on the consumer market, with questions raised about the feasibility of IOT devices such as Google’s Nest smart thermostat, smart switches, Sockects and other automation homewares. Where does this leave enterprises, especially when it comes to issues such as security, and what to do with all the data that IOT sensors can collect? After all, if there are privacy and security concerns about what a smart Switch or thermostat can collect in a suburban home, what happens when IOT goes industrial, and critical systems are connected to the Internet and uploading terabytes of data into the cloud? These issues regarding how business will respond to IOT were center stage at this month’s Mobile World Congress. Although mainly a consumer show focused on mobile, MWC 2015 provided some critical insights into how enterprises should approach IOT, and what it means for IT departments and the CIOs tasked with overseeing this technology. At the MWC show, Niall Murphy, founder and CEO of Evrythng, an IOT cloud platform that connects consumer products to the Web and manages real-time data to drive applications, talked about how the 3.5 trillion products that are manufactured every year are becoming more and more digital. When it comes to IOT specifically, he estimates that there will be about one trillion of these connected products by 2020. In his view, Murphy believes that businesses should not only focus on how things get connected, but also on how things become connectable. “Smart does not mean that something is connected — or if something is connected, it doesn’t mean it is smart. Something becomes smart when it is connectable,” he explained.

Niall-Murphy's presentation at MWC in Barcelona
(Image: Susan Fourtané)

After his presentation, he took part in panel discussion on how different objects and different languages connected through the IoT are going to change businesses over the course of the next five years, as a vast array of products become connected by different methods.

Murphy was joined by several executives working with IoT, including David Friedman, CEO of Ayla Networks; David del Val Latorre, who oversees research and development at Telefonica; and Thomas Svensson, a senior vice president at ThingWorx.

What are these executives thinking about when it comes to IoT? One word: Security.

Murphy addressed the concern by saying that the enterprises are now in the role of almost representing the types of services IoT provides. In turn, they are responsible for protecting the security of the consumer.

“Product manufacturing brands have the pressure to assess the security of the product,” Murphy said. However, a lot of this depends on what data these devices capture and the relationship with the consumer. The paradox appears when trying to deliver a customized experience.

IoT’s Message In A Bottle
In addition, IoT-connectable products radically change the relationship between consumers, products, and brands. Take alcoholic beverages for example.

Murphy presented an NFC-enabled, smart tag for whiskey bottles that grew out of a partnership between Evrythng and Thinfilm.

The NFC tag makes it possible to track the bottles. With the help of a smartphone, the manufacturer can see whether the bottle’s seal has been broken. This helps keep tabs on the stock control — a futuristic type of anti-counterfeiting measure. According to Thinfilm, its smart labels are impossible to copy or modify. These smart labels use OpenSense, a new wireless technology for enhanced IoT product security.

Think about that the next time you walk down the aisle of your favorite liquor store or step up to the bar after a long day at the office. The question then becomes one of whether the same technology be used to measure whether people are actually drinking the whisky? Is it times to change the way the drinks are distilled? If a person likes this particular brand, would they also enjoy a different type of alcohol made by the same company?

As products become connectable, the enterprise needs to be ready for the connected revolution. There’s a lot of promise here, as well as some warning signs.

(Mar 27, 2015,by Susan Fourtané, IW)