When for Autonomous Vehicles… Follow the Horse

The Rapid Adoption of A New Mobility in NY

 

Many of the uncertainties surrounding Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) circle around dates. “When will AVs move from pilot tests to the open road,” and  “when will they outnumber conventional vehicles?” There is a lot riding on “when”. How can cities that plan transportation projects on a twenty or thirty years cycle evaluate future transit projects like rail when  the “when” is unclear?

Often radically new inventions, like the AV, have to lay-in- wait until components of the technology catch up. The Picturephone, for example, was demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair and AT&T showed a prototype in the 1960s. But, picture vision, like Skype, did not become mainstream until advancements were achieved in over-the-air bandwidth and video compression.

Similarly, remote-controlled AVs debuted in the 1920’s, but it took technological advancements in the 1980s to make them scalable. The functional vehicle required fast computing, computer vision, video cameras, and thereafter, neural processing networks and advanced sensors. We are now at the point where companies, specifically  Google,  have logged 5 million miles on the road and 5 billiion more on simulators.

A Problem to be Solved:

But, to get to the next stage, and solve “when” the technology must either create a problem to be solved, or solve an existing problem. There are useful parallels for problem solving from the time, over a hundred years ago, when the transition was made from horse and carriage to the human driven vehicle (HDV). Many people are surprised at how quickly HDVs displaced horses, particularly in urban areas. But, that’s because, as we will see, the technology was a problem solver.

First, some perspective. At the turn of the century, there were 21 million horses in the U.S.  and only about 4,000 automobiles. But, by 1908, in just eight years, the number of cars surpassed the number of horses in New York City. In more rural areas the diffusion was slower, but by 1922 horses were all but phased out, except in special applications. One of the key factors here was not a lack of interest, but often the absence of infrastructure, namely paved roads.

Infrastructure:

The human driven vehicle (HDV) required an infrastructure quite distinct from the horse and carriage.  Cars operated on paved roads, with painted lanes, signalization, and traffic rules. It is not widely known that a smaller technology, the bicycle, came first and helped transition roadways from rutted road or cobblestone to smooth, bituminous surfaces.

It is likely that we already have that smaller technology in place for the AV. Smartphones enable communication between drivers, vehicle sensors, and maps. The phone also has a different purpose: it is widely used in cars for ‘infortainment’, such that drivers may welcome the transition to AVS so that they can continue to text and talk more safely.

Efficiency:

During the transition from horses to cars, the wealthy acquired the first horseless carriages.  It was a status symbol. However, the real adoption took place, function-to-function. Freight-haulage was one of the later functions, probably because early cars did not have the horsepower, literally .

In the case of autonomous vehicles, freight shippers are on the leading edge because of opportunities to save time and reduce a reliance on drivers.  Autonomous cars may also appeal to suburban commuters, not because they are wealthy, but because they might help solve the problems of spending an average of 52 minutes a day stuck in traffic.

Resources:

The transition from horses to car vastly disrupted the supply chain for farmers and agriculture. A single horse required five acres of hay and grain annually, so vast tracts of farmland were reserved for growing, then transporting, horse feed.

The autonomous car, in this case an electric one, will likewise upend the supply chain. It will greatly reduce carbon emissions if solar energy or wind power are sources for generating the electricity. The electric AV will also significantly reduce emissions wrought by the extended  supply chain to drill, transport, refine, and store oil.

Public Health (1):

Public health is often cited as the core issue explaining why horse-driven transportation met a fast demise, and why cities were quick to adopt  human driven vehicles.

The millions of horses that pulled carriages and moved good and services left behind gigantic volumes of urine and waste.  Each day, the average horse produced 45 pounds of dung and a gallon of urine. Horses often died in service on the streets and their carcasses blocked traffic until they could be carted away.

The resulting public health issues ranged from noxious smells, horse dung passed on the shoes of pedestrians, flies, vermin, and airborne diseases.

Compared to horses, gas powered cars have fewer negative externalities, even with their massive C02 footprint. Electric cars will significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. They will also reduce approximately $190 billion each year in health care costs associated with accidents.

The AV also brings two other distinct advantages under the rubric of public health. First, these cars are quiet and will reduce  decibel levels in public spaces; noise reductions may bring  health benefits. Another improvement, particularly for mental health, may emerge when a transportation mode decreases stress, anxiety, and road-rage.

Public Health (2) :

The incentive in 1900 to move from horses to human driven vehicles had a safety aspect. Although they seem quaint and relatively slow, horse-drawn wagons were not stable and accident prone. Horse and pedestrian fatalities were also common. About the same number of people were killed in New York City in 1900 in horse-pedestrian collisions, as were killed in 2015 by car-pedestrian interactions. Considering the momentous change in population, horses were a clear danger to those on foot.

Although the recent death of a pedestrian in Arizona by an autonomous vehicle  is still topical, people overlook that on that same day (March 19, 2018), 120 people died in automobile related incidents. The push to safety, expressed in campaigns like Vision 2020  is likely to propel the technology. Today, 94% of today’s accidents are attributed to human error. In 2016 there were more than 37,000 fatalities plus  6,827 pedestrian and bicycles deaths. Worldwide, 1.2 million people lose their lives in automobile accidents.  This may be the largest man-made public health crisis we have ever faced.

Conspicuous Consumption Sea-Change?

To the inquiry  of ‘when’ the autonomous vehicle will go mainstream and the problems it will solve, we add a  final footnote.

Wealthy people were  the first to adopt the human operated vehicle, and car ownership was initially known as “the rich man’s toy.”  Cars have continued to be a status symbol, fueled by advertising, at least until now.

Over the next decade there could be a sea-change. Since they began just six or seven years ago, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft have reduced the need, and sometimes the desire, to own personal vehicles. Few rideshare passengers care about the type of vehicle that picks them up; it is the convenience and ease of use that matters. Scooters, a more recent entry, are also shifting perceptions. It is important to watch these trends, because urban mobility could operate in the future more as a service, like electricity or water.

If that is the case, AVs could roll out quickly.  They are to future cities what human driven vehicles (HDV)  are to horses.

 

The Next Big Car App

 

Solving the Parking Crisis in Manhattan- May, 1929. theboweryboyshistory.com

What if you could use your smartphone to make your car trip safer and faster, increase road capacity, and pave the way for autonomous vehicles?

A prototype already exists on our phones; it’s the app that helps drivers locate off-street parking.  Some familiar names  are Spot Hero,  Parking Panda, WhereiPark, BestParking, ParkMe and ParkWhiz, but there are more.

Prior to apps, economists led by Donald Shoup  shook up the staid parking business with real-time applications of supply and demand pricing.  Programs like SF Park, reduce both search time and congestion. Pricing algorithms are based on inputs such as the past occupancy level, block size, time, day of week, and so forth. 

Now there is an opportunity to bring a new wave of improvements  through smartphones and location-aware sensors. 

GUIDED PARKING GROWS:

Guided parking apps are still evolving. Simply put, a driver enters her destination before  starting the vehicle trip, and is then routed to proximate parking places, based on preferences for cost and convenience.Upscale car manufacturers, like BMW, are already integrating Parkmobile functions into some of their dashboards . Or, the driver simply reserves a parking space before they get on the road. 

These apps are important because they change the behavior of drivers and make each trip they take more like rideshare.  Drivers do not circle aimlessly hoping to find street parking, they have an upfront knowledge of the full trip cost, and many times they are able to shorten the travel time, even allowing for the last leg on foot. It sounds like a lot, but the changes are subtle…. they sum to a more efficient use of road-travel. An IBM study estimated that up to 30 percent of traffic in a city may be caused by drivers searching for a parking spot and Imrix estimates that American drivers waste 17 hours per year in search of a space.

CHANGING EVEN MORE SPACES: 

Meanwhile, the parking apps also begin to prepare the public for autonomous vehicles. When the guided parking app is programmed to use surface lots and indoor structures, it frees up meters and curb space. Public policy needs to follow suit, and slowly reduce or eliminate street parking. This is vital because curb space is the essential enabler for future transportation: rideshare, demand based transit, and autonomous vehicles.

It may be a while before older drivers, like Baby Boomers, embrace parking apps that guide them to a surface lot or structure. But, there are plentiful reasons why younger people may enjoy them. First, the apps blend transportation with connectivity….just like an extension of the smartphones they live by. Second, being guided to a parking spot is sustainable….it helps to reduce congestion and carbon emissions. And, like rideshare, it can alleviate some of the stress and unpredictability of driving alone.

REDISCOVERING URBAN SPACE

The parking innovation is favored by two additional factors:

The first is the growing surplus of retail space and commercial frontage. As online shopping expands, the need for store-fronts shrinks. Before smartphones, commercial development sprawled along urban strips that encouraged drivers to park for free. Excess store-fronts may bring a return to denser, multi-use shopping centers that favor a more contemporary, leisurely outing centered around foot traffic, bicycles and scooters. The parking structure might have stores at ground-level, and for those needing special assistance, pickup and drop-off by a dedicated shuttle vehicle.

A second trend is also a positive: the app can free up street-side parking and  help foster open lanes. The right most travel lane could then be re-purposed for other modes of transportation, like scooters, bicycles, and motorized wheelchairs, as well as reclaiming the all-important travel curb. For many cities, the real policy issue will not be the supply and demand of parking spaces but rather, the loss of revenue from street side meters and pay-by-space.

While it may seem futuristic, smart mobile applications have already become a standard in the car. Drivers now depend on Waze and Google Maps for navigation and traffic updates.  They use pre-billed transponders to speed through toll booths.   And, when they choose not to drive, the smartphone is the enabler for  Uber or Lyft.

The growing use of smartphone apps for guided parking will add to this list. They are squarely built upon people’s familiarity and trust that telecommunications improves trip taking.

Uber Fast- Rideshare Slow?

J. Gould photo
Senior w/ bum leg meets Uber

Rideshare is fast paced. Yet,  as Uberhealthcare and Lyft Concierge expand into  new markets, and health care  in particular,  I wonder whether they need to slow things down, literally. 

For the past two years my colleagues and I have periodically offered a class  called “How to Rideshare” and it is held at the library or senior center. The course is divided into three sessions, because we have learned that seniors need time to process the information and practice.  These  students are not “digital natives.” It takes time  for them to get comfortable with smartphone basics, store a credit card online, understand cellular data versus WiFi, and position a virtual  pin on a virtual map. We have developed the class from scratch, using seniors to pretest our method, We also discovered the need to spend a lot of time going over the safety issues because seniors come full of worry….you can practically see the furrows in their brow. 

SAFETY AS SENIORS SEE IT

A specific concern keeps many seniors  wary of rideshare…. They fear that the drivers have a criminal record and will physically harm them. I don’t know the source of this anxiety, but I hunch that it originates from two concerns: first, trepidation about new technology, and second, an exaggeration on the part of the taxi industry of the rare rideshare trip that goes bad. Our classroom time dispels this safety issue. We describe the rigorous background checks (particularly in states like California and Massachusetts), we mention that Uber and Lyft provide millions of trips on a daily basis,  and we describe the advantage of cashless payment and an always-on, always trackable GPS.

We dispel the idea that rideshare is not safe for seniors.

THE HIDDEN SAFETY ISSUE

But, there is a different aspect of rideshare that continues to put older people in harm’s way. Seniors are slow, and the rideshare business is fast.

In a recent training session, the students, probably age 70 and older (we don’t ask)  had completed a five hours in the classroom, and were now excited to take their first road trip. The students successfully used their smartphone to get an Uber vehicle. For this session our destination was an ice cream parlor  located on a fairly busy street; Uber had provided ride credits, and the ice cream store had provided complementary cones. It was to be a happy graduation.

WIthin minutes a young Uber driver, in a late-model 4 door sedan pulled up, and I hopped into the front seat, while my students, two older ladies, opened the rear doors to settle into the backseat. Except that one of them didn’t. This particular elder had a bum foot and needed to walk with a cane. She was mobile on her feet, but in a dragging sort of way.  Meanwhile, the young Uber driver made a timing mistake- he waited the requisite period of time for an average passenger to load, and assumed that the lady was in the car. Without turning back to look at the passengers, he released the brake. The vehicle  started to lurch forward while our bum-footed passenger had only one leg inside the door. She was in mid-air, suspended between the street and the car.

The story has a happy ending because the Uber driver grasped the gravity, immediately  braked the vehicle before it could roll further, and sprang out to the rear door. There he  lifted the hapless rider  under her shoulder blades and wedged her into the backseat.

It was a fearful trip back to our classroom-  like travel in slow motion. As we waited for the trip to end so we could assess her condition, we distracted ourselves with talk about the Uber driver’s four month only baby boy, aptly named Miles. At the end of the trip, 15 minutes  and  5 miles later, we all breathed a sigh of relief as the lady with the bum foot took a step, then another, and hobbled away intact. No physical damage seemed to have been done, but we were all shaken up.

SLOW DOWN TO SPEED UP

I don’t know that this student will ever ride again…and I certainly know that the experience gave me second thought about how to teach rideshare to elders. Maybe there were safety concerns that I had cavalierly ignored.

Rideshare is clearly a tough business to slow down, because the faster a driver turns around passengers, the more trips and the more revenue. At the end of the day, I do not think that rideshare and older people are incompatible, but I do wonder how to mesh them better. I am reminded that as the rideshare business, Uber and Lyft, reach out to more elderly and medical riders, there is an apt proverb. It goes:  “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Hotrod Sinners and Phone Beginners

Parents cringe when kids get their first smartphone. They have valid concerns about the hours kids will spend on the phone, as well as the accidental, or deliberate, exposure to the digital perils of cyber-bullying, cyber-porn, and more.  

Yet these smartphones also bring parents a peace of mind that an older generation never experienced.  Although there are still far too many vehicle accidents, young people are getting their driver’s licenses later and waiting longer to get behind the wheel. Fewer parents now spend restless evenings waiting up, praying that their kid and the car return safely from a nocturnal adventure.  

NEW STATUS SYMBOL

Smartphones have replaced cars as the status symbol for young people. Phones are changing the rulebook of how teens and parents work out growing pains. In this two-part blog we will highlight some of the differences, and center here on the more easily observed car/phone trade-offs.

The average age for acquiring a personal smartphone (in the US) is only ten, but there is a forceful movement to wait until eight, as in eighth grade . Smartphones have become a teen rite-of-passage. An earlier generation of Boomers, and to some extent Millennials, used their cars as the opportunity to establish independence and connections outside the immediate household. As John Zimmer, the  co-founder of Zimiride, and  president of Lyft observes

The independence once represented by the car has been replaced by cell phones and social networks, which are now at the forefront of people’s expression of freedom and access.

 

So, what are some of the differences between coming of age today, and coming of age when wheels ruled the road?

 

ENVIRONMENTAL: The environmental record is not so green for Baby Boomers and older Millennials. Their transportation preferences locked them into big-oil, and the affection for drive alone leaves behind an oversized carbon footprint.  With smartphones, today’s teens are far more eco-friendly, and cut their fossil-fuel travel trips  by doing both errands and entertainment online instead of taking  travel trips.  As the trend continues, there is an important sea-change just ahead: The convergence of the smartphone and the automobile is occurring with self-driving, autonomous vehicles. As you might imagine, polls find that teens and young people embrace the technology. Older people, the Boomers, are resistant to self-driving cars, and when you dig into the reasons, they say it threatens their freedom and independence .

 

FINANCIAL: Most rites of passage invoke some sacrifice or exchange of funds, and in this case, the younger generation wins again. Boomers were motivated to get a car and incurred the added cost of fuel, maintenance, and insurance. That often required the need to get a first or second job in addition to schooling.  David Murdock, who hails  from an older generation, quipped, “ We take better  care our cars than we take care of the maintenance of our bodies.”

Today’s teens still crave the ownership ritual, but it comes with less of a financial strain.  Twelve year olds to twenty year olds are registered for the family cellphone contract, and do not have to work as hard to afford the trendiest phone or heavy -duty data plan. They may even have extra change left to playfully try out stylish phone cases, headphones, and downloads.

 

CONFIDENTIAL: One of the pivotal differences between phones and cars cuts deeper. Boomers will recall that they did many private things in their own cars, or in the car they borrowed from parents. Cars became an indoor vehicle literally for the private consumption of alcohol or other illicit substances. Backseats were also legendary on date-night as the go-to place and, for many different reasons, teen pregnancies soared in comparison to the rates today.  When all stationary activities were exhausted, there were also trips! The Boomers, as teens, could visit with friends or travel to a site that their elders had specifically forbidden.

Today’s teens may be starting earlier, but there is a similar penchant to forge trails that are private and beyond the prying eyes of adults. Snapchat and messaging sites often provide a ‘teen-preferred’ space, by virtue of being edgy, and/or tricky to navigate. The back seat of the car may have been supplanted by the camera on the phone,  i.e. teens  sending, receiving, and forwarding sexually explicit message and images. There is a subtle similarity: Like young drivers who do not pay full attention to the road, teenagers on their phone may not be thinking about the risks and repercussions when they are deep into sexting. I Curiously, the demographics are different today:  women in relationships are more likely to sext than men, and that may explain why an older age group, 18 the 24 years olds, are the largest users.

 DIGITAL LITERACY: No matter what teens once did in cars there is one blockbuster difference. We used to expect parents, backed by strict hours of classroom time and in-vehicle instruction, to make young people driver-ready.  In an earlier blog we suggested the idea of a provisional license for smartphone users  and on our Facebook page, SmartphoneZen, we noted  the application of Yondr bags so that students were less distracted in the classroom.

Teens know how to use a smartphone and they are usually more proficient at it than their parents. But, they often lack the knowledge to use it mindfully and with purpose. These are skills that need to be taught. Since the nineteen seventies there has been a small movement to teach media studies in the school curriculum. However, it has never been widely adopted. Incongruously, most middle schools and high schools did make room in the academic curriculum  for classes on sexual health and body awareness.

Here stands a new opportunity: teens going online today  encounter a lot of information about sexual health and awareness, including cyber porn. That information is in full sight. For example,  The New York Times cites an older study (2008) that 93 percent of male college students and 62 percent of female students encountered online porn before they were 18.

So, if the smartphone is the new vehicle, and the classroom is the new setting, this might be the opportune moment to pair the two. Parents and educators  take note:  We  need a curriculum that is part of a larger umbrella where kids learn to use their phones in ways that are mindful and responsible. We need to help kids mature alongside their digital freedom and independence.

 

 

Driving is Where Your Head Is

CAN YOU SPOT THE IPAD IN THIS PICTURE?

 

Driving is not about where your car is… it is where your head is.  But, drivers ignore the evidence and buy into an optical illusion when it comes to smartphones.

We can’t find the ipad, which is in plain site (see image) because it blends seamlessly into the upholstery.  Hands-free smartphones encourage a different optical illusion when it comes to safety and mobility. While the phone makes drive time more enjoyable it also masks the cognitive load brought to the driving task.

COGNITIVE DISTRACTION

Cognitive distraction is not a household phrase but it should get more attention in April during “Distracted Driving Awareness Month.”  This annual campaign reminds us that there are nearly 3,500 deaths  and 391,000 traffic injuries each year. These numbers  include all sources of driver distraction, not just phones.  In the past, The National Safety Council (NSC) has estimated that one in four traffic accidents is caused by texting.

It is hard to see cognitive distractions, but optical illusions help us describe it. Like the silver ipad in the image, it is visible, yet overlooked. Drivers cannot imagine the dangers of holding a phone conversation. Their bias, or misbelief, is that they can multi-task and drive safe with hands-free smartphones.  

ALL DISTRACTION IS NOT EQUAL

Some background: There are three identified sources of smartphone distraction in vehicles: the first two are obvious: manual distraction, like reaching for a smartphone or texting with it, and visual distraction, gazing at the keyboard or text, instead of the road.  Drivers rationalize that they are compliant and safe if they keep their hands on the steering wheel, and their eyes planted on the road.

Cognitive distraction is the third source of distraction. Put simply, it is the mental workload associated with a task that involves thinking about something other than the driving task . Driving safely requires more than keeping the vehicle straight within two parallel lines.  Put another way, driving safely it is not where your hands are, but where your brain is.

There is a lot of listening we do in our cars, and for the most part we do it safely. We attend to horns, and sirens outside the car…and even to the GPS on our phones, which speaks turn by turn directions. We also converse with passengers. These exchanges seldom result in ‘distraction’ from the road. Should traffic conditions deteriorate outside the windshield, most passengers, with some rare exceptions, will modulate the change. The feedback can be an outright warning, a small gap in conversation or a subtle change in pitch or tone. In any case, the driver gets alerted.

HANDS-FREE IS DIFFERENT

This is dissimilar to a hands-free conversation on a smartphone. The virtual communicator is far-away and has no knowledge of the road conditions. He/she is not able to alert the driver, slow down, or cease the conversation should road conditions suddenly change.

But, it gets more serious. Drivers on a smartphone seldom inform the virtual party at the other end that they are calling from a car. There is an unwritten rule of etiquette to stay connected, even when the traffic conditions get snarly. If drivers get deeply “wrapped up” in a conversation, their concentration can go awry. A conversation trigger may be an emotional topic, or one deeply rooted in disagreement or debate. Whatever, it tends to floods the driver’s other point of concentration, which should be the driving task.

Cognitive distraction is an everyday occurrence: busy parents call from their car and try to discipline recalcitrant teens, multi-faceted business deals sour over the phone, and political disagreements turn vitriolic.

When drivers acquire hands-free phones, they want to brush away the risk. Existing laws do not help, because they primarily regulate manual distraction and visual distraction, specifically holding a smartphone or texting and driving. There is no law that prohibits using hands-free smartphones, except among teens and novice drivers.  Cognitive Distraction is the optical illusion that we ignore at, our own risk.

TUNNEL VISION AND TUNNEL REACTIONS

The driver who talks… …but has his mind elsewhere faces trouble: first, he/she is more likely to “visually tunnel”- he tunes out more signs and signals in the environment; it might be as straightforward as missing speed-limit signage, or as deadly as blowing through a traffic signal.

Second, the distracted driver has a slower reaction time. Researcher David Strayer, at the University of Utah, finds, at the maximum, that a driver traveling only 25 mph continues to be distracted for up to 27 second after disconnecting from a highly distracting phone call or a car-voice command system. The vehicle would cover the length of three football fields before the driver regained full attention.

We should note that the majority of Strayer’s work measures the mental distraction caused by in-car information systems that are operated by voice commands. The mental distraction from an intense, emotional conversation becomes even more difficult to enumerate.

BEYOND APRIL….

It is human nature to talk and to drive… we have, collectively, been chatting for nearly 100 years old, since the beginning of motoring.  However, it a relatively new capability to drive, and to talk virtually. The differences are that we converse with someone who is not present and we are not stationary. This is an entirely new phenomenon with unmeasured risk. We tell ourselves that it is natural, but like the optical illusion, hands-free smartphones warrant a second look during “National Distracted Driving Month” and beyond.

Provisional Phones/Provisional Drivers

The Provisional Phone And the Provisional Driver…

Are we needing to reinvent the phone for young people?

It used to be a teenage rite of passage in the U.S.:  At ‘Sweet Sixteen’ you were considered mature and could qualify to take a driving exam. Today, that rite comes smaller and younger. Children, well under the age of 16, have been indoctrinated into the whirl of smartphones, the friends and family of telecom.

According to a heavily reported news story in 2016, the average age (in the U.S.)  for having a smartphone today is 10 years.   That numerical average means that many of the users are actually younger!  Another statistic from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media, cites that 75 percent of low-income children have their own mobile device by the age of four.

Still, despite 100 years that separate their invention, smartphones and automobiles are joined at the hip. They bring similar rewards for young people.  With either technology, teens hang out with friends and meet new people, distance themselves from parental controls, and explore the world at large. However, there are also tragic parallels between the phone and driving a car. Teen drivers, ages 16 to 19 are nearly three time more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash and in 2015 there were more than 2,300 deaths. Meanwhile smartphones and social media use appear to correlate with an increase in mental illness, depression, and suicides.  A recent, large panel study with Gallup data compared offline and online social interactions. The researchers observed a statistically significant relationship between a self-reported decline in mental health and a heavier reliance on Facebook’s social interchange.

While no one is proposing that teens need a DMV (a motor vehicle office) to certify them as smartphone users, “provisional phones” could become a new heuristic. Since the beginning of automobiles there have been age restrictions. From the start drivers were required to be tested, and by 1909 one state, Pennsylvania, established an age restriction of age 18. Connecticut became the first state to lower that to age 16.

Today, smartphones seem to know no age restrictions, probably because children do not literally crash and burn. The impact is subtle. Yet recently, Silicon Valley executives, those who design hardware and software, have rallied for stricter technology use and even regulation.

Meanwhile, there is no scientific knowledge, just speculation, of the appropriate age at which children should have phones. There is an undercurrent (no pun intended) of fear about the health impacts of electromagnetic waves on young, developing brains. Meanwhile, ‘lucky thirteen’ seems to be popping-up as the new ‘sweet-sixteen’.  A Colorado doctor had proposed a ballot initiative to ban the sale of smartphones to kids under thirteen.  A large movement now afoot, in 48 states, is called wait until 8th (when children are approximately 14 years old).

The “right age” is clearly a dilemma for parents. Modern parents feel more secure if their children can be in contact, and they justify mobile phones because there are no longer land-lines. They also recognize that a child without a phone misses out socializing with friends and learning modern tools. Everyone knows that the ability and knowledge to handle electronic tools begins before age 13.

(end of part one)

Smartphones & Rental Car: Forget Me Not

Are you leaving a shadow at the car rental?

“Please remove your personal possession from the rental car… as well as your personal data… or….forget me not!”

We are all familiar with the first part of that announcement when we drop-off a rental car, particularly if we return it to an airport location. Unless you have rented a very recent model, you may not know that your digital data could stay with the car long after you have shut the trunk, grabbed your bags, and caught your flight.

With a smaller rental car agency, you may have encountered the Bluetooth display that lists past drivers as it searches for a pairing. Bigger rental agencies may be more savvy about clearing this screen. In 2015, it came to light that pairing a smartphone to a car’s Bluetooth system could leave a digital trace.   This trace might include your phone number, call list, and even contacts, unless you took efforts to delete it.

In 2016, an English cybersecurity expert, David Ward, indicated that additional steps were needed.  In a talk at the Institute of Engineering and Technology he said, “in a hire car I paired a mobile device (…) needless to say, when it went back to the rental station, there weren’t any paired devices listed in the memory (…) but all that means is they were deleted from the list; someone that could physically get hold of that unit could probably still extract the data.”  (Note: Mr. Ward,  of MIRA,  was not specific about ‘where’ this information is stored but a later zdnet item indicates it is within the car’s infortainment system.)

More recently, both Google and Apple have announced Bluetooth type systems that are supposed to reduce the risks.  Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto are supposed to display information from the smartphone without storing it. Cars equipped with these systems  may eliminate the current risks to your data (note: or create new ones).

Meanwhile, most rental cars do not have have these systems, and it will be a while before the technology diffuses through the fleet. As an interim measure, we can remember before we set up Bluetooth, to not sync the contacts.  It has also been suggested that we allow extra time when we return a rental car so that we remember to clear it from the Bluetooth pairing!!  The full recommendation is to do a complete factory reset of the Bluetooth (you might need to ask the rental agency to assist).  Apparently, the car’s navigation system will also need to be reset and cleared of its cookie-crumb trail.

Perhaps CarPlay and Android Auto will reduce the leakage of data, and drivers will be more assured that their information will remain private. That will also require that users trust these new systems, and possibly consider paying a monthly fee too.  One solution begets another problem, yet an even more bigger one.

The pairing of the smartphone and mobility brings ‘human sized’ challenges. The simplicity and ease of using Apple Play or Android Auto will encourage drivers and their passengers to interact with their smartphones more frequently. The developers overlook human issues: the cognitive burden of doing this is two-way, quite different from the interaction with simpler things, like a manually operated , turn knob, car radio. As our technology grows and our privacy does a reset, so does out ability to distract the driver even further.

Smartphone TuneUp

selfstoragefinders.2015
A Smartphone TuneUp

It may be time to tune-up your phone, just like your car!

This month we add Smartphones to the  GrayHomesGreen Cars  title, as  they will increasingly propel mobility in the coming year. In 2017 more than 77% of Americans owned a smartphone , and 95% had a cell phone of some kind. That exceeds the number of drivers, which is 88% of people over  age 15.

There is a long history with our cars- nearly 125 years since they were invented. We have a short history with our smartphones- just ten years since the smartphone debuted.

We can enter the New Year with a fresh start if we depend on our cars less and our phones more. But, to do so we need to use our phones  mindfully and masterfully. As we transition to the age of smartphones, we take some practical lessons from our motoring experience.

 

(1) Get a TuneUp

Auto manufacturers recommend that we tune up our car at regular intervals-every 7,500 miles or so. That mechanical check-in keeps cars running well and avoids breakdowns further down the road.

The same principle applies to our smartphones. We periodically need to clean them up, digitally speaking. It is important to deal with the sheer volume of material- paring down saved downloads, moving pictures to a more permanent source, reduce the number of voice mails, and so forth. An average smartphone user accesses just 30 apps a month, but has downloaded one-third to one-half more. 

The following YouTube video,  was apparently inspired by the Japanese author, Marie Kondo, and  it provides some steps for a quick tune-up.

 

(2) Do the Detailing

You see them lined up on a Saturday morning-  the car owners that go the carwash every weekend, and keep their vehicle spanking clean. Nearly all of us wish we could take the time to do that, and restore that new-car smell.

It turns out that smartphones need to be tidied up too- and it is easier than going to the carwash. You can develop a daily habit to remove finger prints, and wipe down the screen, the case, and the chargers. It only takes a second of time and a lint-free cloth.

While you probably will not put be able to put the phone back in the original box it came in, and recreate the excitement you felt when you first opened it, you will still feel better. And, you may be able to go further….pay attention to the bag or pocket you lug your phone in. Is that space clean, easy to reach, and not too mixed up with other things you have to carry?

 

(3) Count the Miles

If you lease a car, you know that it is important to track the number of miles, so that you do not exceed the terms of your contract. Likewise, if you expense your miles or drive for a living, you also count them.

The same principle, tracking where we have been and how much time we have spent, has an essential role for smartphones. On a daily basis, we may read and send hundreds of messages and texts, visit innumerable multiple web sites, and open our favorite apps multiple times. It’s a good idea to slow down and observe ourselves using our phones.

 

If you are feeling stressed this holiday season it may be because you are stacking too many new things onto your digital presence. Take a moment to step back, count the miles, or in this case, slow down and examine the distance you cover.

(4) Share!

Note: If you find this blog interesting or useful, please instagram to #declutterphone or twitter to #declutterphone. Please share…how you might simplify and organize your smartphone?

 

Black Friday of Transportation: Fowl & Fun

Fowl Day.

It’s the Black Friday of Transportation….. Nearly 51 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home during the five-day period from Wednesday through Sunday, with 89 percent driving.  Even those who fly (like wild turkeys), just under 8 percent, will begin and end their trip with ground transportation.

While urban drivers will encounter an endless sea of tail lights, those driving in rural areas have different concerns. Weather is a factor,  as well as the errant deer that knows no crossing bounds.  But there is also a hazard from the turkey that is not on your plate. Vehicle-turkey accidents are as common as car-deer collisions according to a rep from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.*

There is graphic detail in this WSBT-TV news video, courtesy of Automotive Fleet (spoiler alert:  turkeys are harmed). 

http://wsbt.com/news/local/wild-turkey-goes-through-windshield-of-truck-in-laporte-county

Next, our blog takes a U-turn and offers up  a Thanksgiving chortle. It’s a spoof on our regular topics:  rideshare, older people learning technology, future homes, and autonomous vehicles. So, let’s go foul and fun!

It’s A Turkey, Part One:

There are 200 organic turkeys to be delivered from the farm to a nearby processing plant. They are piled into small crates for the short trip, just three or four miles away. The truck has side curtains, so that the organic birds get open, circulated air. The turkeys are surprised by this change of routine; they drop feathers and cackle.

Little do they know that they have boarded  a new “autonomous tractor trailer” (called an ATT) with no human operator. The ATT sets off on the quiet farm road, unlikely to encounter traffic.

But  the road is so quiet and secluded that when night-time falls, it becomes the site for nefarious deeds. Someone has dumped a thread-bare couch on the road and it sits there, perched on its side.  As the ATT slows down to veer around it, a sudden wind gust picks up the couch, and it hurtles into the side of the truck.

The next moment is filled with feathers. The cages become airborne and their doors spring loose. The turkeys, thankful to be released, run through the grasslands, and a few fly off. They pass over the factory they were supposed to reach.

Turkey, Part Two:

Meanwhile, families are making their preparations for the big day. In elementary school, kids are learning about the boat that brought the Pilgrims to this country, the Mayflower. They also recite the names of Columbus’ boats: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

One of the more precocious children asks about the first autonomous vehicles. What were they named? In a future celebration, school kids will give thanks and draw pictures of Darpa 1, Darpa 2, and Darpa 3.

Turkey, Part Three:

Grandma and Grandpa have learned the buzz and decided to give up their car. They now depend on rideshare vehicles, and there is still a driver at the steering wheel; they are not fully autonomous yet. Unfortunately, the grandparents are not always so sharp. They have not quite mastered how to use the software on their smartphone phones. It is particularly hard for them to place the pin, and they forget to check where it has automatically centered.  

On Thanksgiving Day, they prepare for their trip with apple pies in hand. But they mistakenly program someone else’s address. The rideshare driver takes them to a different town and a different home for Thanksgiving. Fortunately, they are magnanimously welcomed, and the pies are shared.

Turkey, Rebound:

It is the day after Thanksgiving, a day of frenzied shopping called Black Friday. The malls are, of course, empty because the hordes now shop online, and backroom servers work ceaselessly to keep up with the surge.  Meanwhile,  in midair, drones are delivering the packages. Unexpectedly, they are crashing into each other as they collide with errant flying turkeys.

Happy Thanksgiving!  And Safe Travels.

*disclaimer: The turkey vs. deer statistic may be specific to rural  Indiana, and these accidents normally occur during mating season, in early spring.

 

Robots, Traffic Lights & Autonomous Cars

Johannesburg, photo by W. Riedel, 2011.

Robots, traffic lights, and autonomous cars have a lot in common. 

Ask a South African about Robots, and they will point to the humble traffic signal.  Robot Policemen was the name they gave to  the first traffic signals.  Over time, the name got truncated.  

Modern traffic signals are actually catching up to the name. Traffic signals will be an important milestone, past and future, for the autonomous vehicle.  By coincidence, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the interconnected traffic signal and the 103rd year of the electric one.

For just a moment, imagine that you were a driver in 1917. Engineers needed to earn your trust that these new signals would function correctly. If the engineers were wrong, or if the electricity that powered them failed, a collision would surely result.

The handiwork of the engineers could not stand alone. It also required laws and enforcement so that drivers and pedestrians  could share a common framework. The public had to agree to accept the change. Meanwhile, the technology was further codified by insurance regulations. There needed to be clear enforceable rules so that complete strangers, invisible inside cars to each other, could agree when to stop and go.

In 2027, ten years from now, there will be even more pronounced similarities between a robot and the traffic signal. By then, the passengers, formerly called drivers, will have to put their faith in electronic controls. An autonomous vehicle will not proceed until the signal is cleared, just as the driver in today’s conventional car knows  not to step on the gas pedal until the light turns green.

Traffic signals are evolving into a robotic mode, perhaps ahead of cars. Some signals in Pittsburgh, Pa. operate on an adaptive traffic signal system that uses artificial intelligence to change the signal on the fly. Uniquely, each signal is decentralized, and makes its own timing decisions, diverging from the signal standard of the past century. The benefits are less idling and fewer tailpipe emissions.

Similar advanced signaling may also be coming soon to a car near you. Audi and BMW have announced features that count down the time remaining until a traffic light turns green.  In an Audi vehicle, the number reads out on the instrument cluster and the heads-up display. The sensor can also determine whether the driver, at his current speed, will need to stop at a signaled intersection. Las Vegas was the first US city to agree to pilot the technology, and it requires users to have both a new Audi and an Internet like subscription in the vehicle.

Learning to program connected traffic signals used to be one the most mathematically complex aspects of civil engineering. Enabling vehicles, not drivers, to process the traffic signal is a major step on the road to autonomous vehicles. Newer signals are programmed through AI, as robots are.

One hundred years ago, society worried what would happen “if” the traffic light failed and the electricity went down. One hundred years later, drivers  will have an advanced system they must, anew, come to trust.