Smartphone app could help prevent car-pedestrian accidents

Wed, 2014-08-20 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

It’s a common problem in many cities. People walking on the sidewalks are so engrossed with what’s on their smartphone screens that they don’t see traffic around them. And people texting in their cars don’t notice pedestrians.

One day, the smartphones themselves may make us safer.

Researchers at the University of Missouri in Kansas City are trying to find ways to use smartphones to prevent accidents. They developed and are testing an app called WiFi-Honk.

The idea is that while we don’t seem to really talk to each other anymore, our phones can. Perhaps after installing an app, your phone will be on the constant lookout for all the other smartphones around you. And if it senses that another smartphone is headed rapidly in your direction, it will loudly alert both you and the owner of the other phone.

Smart-phone related injuries increasing

Since people don’t seem willing to give up their phones, this could be a solution to a very real problem. Emergency room visits for smartphone-related injuries tripled over a six-year period, while other pedestrian accidents have been on the decline. One reason: People on their phones are more than 60% more likely to veer off course.

The accident prevention concept builds on something your phone does already. Smartphones constantly send out signals to check to see if wireless networks are available. The phones do that whether or not you’re actively using them. The app works by checking for the signals from other smartphones at the same time they’re looking for networks.

That effort by itself can help prevent low-speed accidents, but the researchers found the concept could work at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour if they embed speed, location and direction information into those detection pings.

Next, they’re going to try to see if they can integrate the system more with the vehicle’s electronics, though some engineers wonder if the extra activity would bring Wi-Fi networks to a halt.

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