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How a New Phone App Can Help Stop Pedestrian Accidents

There is a good chance that you’ve noticed a rather disturbing trend among pedestrians as you’ve driven around your neighborhood or along the city streets: distracted walking.

For those unfamiliar with this term, it is essentially when pedestrians are seemingly oblivious to their surroundings thanks to the headphones covering their ears, and/or the smartphone screens to which their eyes are glued.

It goes without saying that this practice is extremely dangerous as distracted pedestrians fail to notice everything from fellow walkers and bicyclists to street hazards and, of course, motor vehicles.

Interestingly, a group of computer scientists from the University of Missouri, Kansas City has developed a new Android-based phone app called Wi-Fi Honk that is designed to transmit a warning — via vibrations, messages, and audio alerts — that a pedestrian accident is imminent.

Wi-Fi Honk, which can be used by pedestrians and motorists alike, capitalizes on the default practice of smartphones to transmit small bursts of information every 100 milliseconds when searching for a wireless network with which to connect.

Here, the computer scientists essentially inserted extra information — the position of the smartphone as measured by its GPS, the direction it’s traveling as measured by its gyroscope and its speed as measured by its accelerometer — into these regularly transmitted informational bursts.

The Wi-Fi Honk app on other devices then picks up this extra information from the signals and, using a complex computer algorithm, determines if a collision is imminent. If so, the aforementioned warning message is sent to the pedestrian or driver.

While the app has yet to be officially released, tests have shown it to be very effective in providing motorists with timely warnings about pedestrians suddenly entering the street. Indeed, motorists using Wi-Fi Honk were found to have been provided with adequate stopping time at speeds of up to 75 miles-per-hour.

This is a truly remarkable breakthrough that should help reduce the number of fatalities attributable to distracted driving and distracted walking here in Tennessee and acoss the U.S. It also begs the question as to whether it will eventually be incorporated as standard equipment on cars and in smartphones.

Source: Wired, “Wi-Fi Honk intervenes before cars hit pedestrians,” Olivia Solon, July 14, 2014