What's the Latest Development?

Juan-David Hincapié-Ramos, a postdoc researcher in the human-computer interaction lab at the University of Manitoba, has created technology that will eventually enable its user to stay focused on his or her smartphone without having to look out for things like curbs, benches, or other people. The aptly-named CrashAlert system "uses a depth-sensing camera to spot obstacles and pops up a warning on a smartphone screen...allowing you to safely navigate public spaces without taking your eyes from your handset." The prototype, which consists of a tablet computer with an attached Microsoft Kinect unit, is described in a paper that will be presented at the Computer Human Interaction Conference next month.

What's the Big Idea?

These days, especially in large cities, it's not uncommon to see people staring deeply into their smartphone screens, so when Hincapié-Ramos says putting down the phone to navigate isn't realistic, he may have a point: "[I]n order to incorporate [cell phones] into our everyday new habits, they have to help with the things they take away from us, like peripheral vision." Stanford professor Clifford Nass, who also studies human-computer interaction, isn't impressed: "Why do we want to encourage people to be disconnected from the world?"

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Read it at MIT Technology Review