Category Archives: smartphones

Echo Loop, MAAS, & Future TRAVEL

When Amazon introduced a novel pinkie ring that activates Alexa through voice commands, they probably didn’t consider its historical significance. The smart ring, called the Echo Loop, is the pinnacle of new technology.

It will take a while for the Echo Loop to become mainstream, but like an earlier wearable, namely the wrist watch, it is a game changer. It has the potential to manage transportation, reduce our reliance on smartphones, and unleash a torrent of connectivity.   It will spur Mobility as a Solution (MaaS) because it  is convenient and familiar.

TRAIN TIME

Many inventions, such as the wrist watch, first emerge as toys or novelties. Initially, pocket watches, “told  much about a gentleman, with regard to his social standing and his place in society.”  It was considered a faux-pas to check the time by pulling out a pocket-watch (on chain) in mixed company.  The pocket watch was as an object of discussion, a status symbol, and a luxury item.

The utilization of this device began to change as more countries developed large national rail networks. In the beginning of rail transport, every city, town, and railroad had their own timekeeping, leading to many train accidents. England adopted “railway time” in 1848  and in 1884 Greenwich Meridian Time became the universal standard. Still, it took a deadly U.S.  crash in 1891, the Kipton Train Disaster, to lead to precise engineered devices here.

THE FIRST WEARABLE 

During World War I supply truck drivers and aviators often received orders with strict time frames to help synchronize military actions.  These men needed timepieces that would let them keep both hands on the controls and check the time. Hence, the wristwatch was improvised and its popularity skyrocketed.  

I believe we have reached a similar technological transition today. In our vehicles, smartphones help optimize route-taking and navigation. However, drivers with hand- hold  phones are at 2 to 3.5 times greater risk of accidents than those with hands-free, voice-activated devices. 

ENTER ECHO  LOOP

This is where the next stage of technology, an Echo Loop  ring, will come into its element. CNET reported that the September, 2019 debut of the Echo ring  had people scratching heads and wondering what they would do with it…. 

“Yet to be discovered” is the potential to make travel planning “screen-free” and simultaneously provide more personalized and up-to-date information through integration with the transportation network. MaaS (mobility as a service) awaits a better technology to become mainstream. 

MaaS  IN A LOOP

The goal of MaaS is to organize seamless fare payment and to integrate timetables and modes. In today’s schema, MaaS combines transportation options from public and private sectors and provides a trip-taker with a customized travel ‘solution’ for each journey. For example, a commuter might take a trip by ferry boat, then get directions to walk to a bus stop, and complete the final leg to the office with a scooter or rideshare. All of these activities, including the booking and payment are handled through a single account. 

Currently mobile phones are the mechanism for creating a multi-modal MaaS trip, but this medium has significant drawbacks. The trip-taker must carry a smartphone and its voice activated commands are likely to be incomplete, and in some cases, unsafe. MaaS, via smartphone, requires a lot of swipes and RFID communications to stitch together a single trip.

ADVANCED JEWELRY

Advanced “jewelry” (the wearable), can bring calm to this endeavor. Imagine that the Loop would function like a wrist watch, executing in the background but behave more like an experienced, helpful companion who knows the route and can enliven it with conversational detail. 

Like the watch the Loop would clarify when to leave for the next ride, how much time to wait on the platform. The ability to perform, and speak customized travel planning will reduce the  reliance on screens. 

Unlike a wristwatch, a Loop could check for delays or changes, and give dynamic step by step directions. It might also reduce congestion by balancing  supply and demand, and help make more efficient use of the network.

And, through the voice commands, it could perform the duties of a personal assistant and reach out to the people or activity at the end of the journey. 

LOOKING BACK…LOOKING FORWARD

Time-pieces, as you will recall, helped lay the groundwork for railroads. If this playbook still holds, then the smart ring, today’s novelty and luxury item, may become tomorrow’s facilitator for a better MaaS, and a transformed means to travel.  

 

 

The Provisional Phone IS A FIRST PHONE

Parents are reluctant to provide tweens with their first phone. They worry about the media content tweens will explore, the memes they will post, and their total time online. But, to withhold the phone for a few more years is to ‘face- down’ an angry tween. We all experience the larger social forces that push us to connect.

We allow kids to get their first phone with almost no training or instruction. Contrast this to the early days of automotives, when driver education was deemed to be a social and legal need. Around 1919, states began enacting laws to establish a minimum age for driving. European countries had stricter and later rules. Although teens mature at different rates teens must still wait until they are fifteen or sixteen to apply for a driver’s license (there are exceptions for farm kids).

Excerpt from Pennsulvania Drivers Manual
source: dot.state.pen.us

Smartphones are just ten years new, so our society has not had time to sort out the protocol and training for phones and tweens. This is an emerging need as the average age for acquiring a first phone is just ten years. There is a certain irony here, for children under eight, notes Common Sense Media, do not necessarily have the critical faculty to discern marketing messages in new media and understand and defend against their persuasive intent.

Beginner’s phones present a related issue: most ten year olds have just developed the skills to be good readers. Does screen time then displace reading time, so that kids don’t grow in their reading breadth and proficiency?

So, with the “tweens”  in mind: do novice phone users need to slow down and gain instruction, similar to beginning drivers?

Boring Phones Rock!

Recently, a group in New Zealand started a kickstarter campaign to develop a stripped down phone that they call aptly, “the boring phone”.  Here, from their web site, are the built-in Features on the Boring phone.

Calling/GPS/Messaging/GPS-Nav/Podcasts/Tethering/Music/Tools

And, here are the features MISSING on the Boring Phone:

Email/Browser/Social Media/AppStore

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1535153164/boringphone-the-minimalist-smartphone

The boring phone comes close to the provisional phone we have touted in previous posts. Socially, it is a phone that kids will be willing to carry; not an out-of-date relic their parents picked out.

Are there other enhancements for “boring”, provisional phones? What are additional lessons we can borrow from the 90 year tradition of educating and licensing new drivers on the road? 

Evening Curfew:


The evening curfew: The beginners driver’s license in California is called a provisional license. Drivers under age18, and for the first 12 months after permitting, cannot drive alone between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Most states have similar laws that restrict driving after dark because it is harder to follow the road markings, and there are more impaired drivers to contend with.

Provisional phones should have similar rules: using smartphones before bedtime and immediately upon waking are not good habits. Sleeping with phones is not healthy, yet a study, again by Common Sense Media, reports that 29% of teens say they sleep with phones a in their bed and 68% report phones are within reach at night.  Provisional phone need to shut themselves down, say at 10 pm, and be left outside the bedroom at night. Every new provisional phone should come with a separate, stand-alone alarm clock and a stand-alone flashlight.

Classroom Time:

Classroom time is a vital component of learning to drive. It should also become an important, and funded, component of the provisional phone. Both schools and libraries have a big role to play- clearing time from other functions to create a new curriculum. The tween’s provisional phone might be activated when a librarian enrolls the new user in a series of on-line and in-person classes.

generic library poster

The curriculum is the equivalent of driver’s education: an age-appropriate intervention to teach online safety, search strategies, and an introduction to the code that powers the apps.

Road Time:

When teens learn to drive, road-time is required, even if the classroom sessions have moved to self-paced online modules. The white-knuckle- road time is never dull and becomes the responsibility of a driving school or parent/guardian.

Sadly, phones do not offer the same opportunity to sit together to learn. But, parents of tweens can participate if they follow the digital trail of their kids through the traffic on their home router. They can also insist on having access to the tween’s social media accounts (which, in theory, are for age 13 and above) and play online games together. 

Train the Parents Too:

 Parents may need to have their own classes: The Common Sense Media poll that found that teens sleep with phones also observed that 74 percent of parents- even more than children- are likely to have mobile devices within reach at night. A provocative Atlantic article ( 2018) argues that “technoference,” – parent’s use of screens is an under-appreciated issue.  The current generation of parents were raised with TV, not smartphones. They are themselves learners and may not understand the technology well enough to be good role-models and teachers.

The Vehicle:

Finally, we come to the vehicle itself. We put kids in safe cars, and require that they buckle up their seat-belts. If the license plate number is obscured, fines are levied. Can we a similar paradigm when we educate tweens on phones?

There should be consequences for kids whose device is found to have posted dangerous or inflammatory content- say sexting messages or cyberbullying. Can the provisional phone be flagged and disabled, taken off the road, so to speak? 

To do so, boring provisional phones should be equipped with provisional phone numbers like a special area code  e.g. (XXX-222-2222) in the prefix. These are trackable. As the tween matures, and demonstrate responsible cyber behavior, they graduate from a temporary number to a standard one.

In Sum-Safe Learning Years:

Tweens, who now get their first phones by age ten or earlier will have five to six years before they become eligible for a driver’s license. Libraries, schools, and parents can use those years to prepare them for a tech future. This training has double-benefit:  when they reach age sixteen the educational program will have prepared teens to the dangers of distraction, and the necessity of keeping eyes on the road, and phones safely stowed.

The ProvisionAL PHONE NEEDS TO SLOW US DOWN

"Why am I in your Hand?"  A screensaver photo showing the time, and this message.
Photo adapted by Jordan McQueen on Unsplash. Displayed by Medium, 11/16/17

The social speed of information is awesome…but it is also dangerous for beginners.

For most of history, messages traveled at about the same speed as a person or animal could walk. The pony express, courier pigeon, and smoke signal incrementally hastened delivery but it is the telegraph that truly disrupted the speed of travel.

Morses’ telegraph machine, invented in 1837, was the first time that messages moved faster than the sender. Communications sent via telegraph, and later via phone, sped from person to person. Today, the internet brings equal or faster speeds with an entirely new dimension. Accelerated messaging travels from a single sender to large groups or collectives; in other words, less person-to-person and more person-to-mass media.

The communications impact is momentous. In this article we consider the virtues of “speed control,”  a continuation of our discussion on phones and provisional learners.

A Cue from Driver’s Education:

First, we take a cue from driver’s education. We need to equip a beginner’s phone with software that encourages new users, usually tweens, to bring focus and attention. Useful software should discourage them from jerky, impulsive communications. It should function like a “parental voice” at the back of a tweens head, helping them to find balance between novelty and risk.

This is done for us when we drive on the road. Legal speed limits keep us in check and make the driving experience predictable. The posted speed sign anticipates the geometry of the road to prevent accidents. There is no analogous criterion for engaging with electronic media like Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Software that slows down tweens has merit. Imagine if there was a ten second delay from the time that a tween posts something to the time that it gets sent out on social media. A pop up might say: “Are you sure that you need to post this? Would you post this if your parents or teachers could read it?  Will you want this post discovered five years from now?”

A ten second delay is not a long time, but would help overcome the impulsiveness of young people.

Cutting back the Multi-task:

A second way to slow down the phone is to design hardware that reduces the ability to multi-task. This is helpful, for while brains are fast, the cognitive ability to stay focused and alert is not. Teens and preteens would be well served if their phones could run only one app at a time. As an example, using GPS for navigation would then disable phone calls and texting. A slower phone is a safer one.

When we drive, there are external messages that prompt us about speed. Standardized road signs and electronic message boards post legal speed limits, but the speed limit changes with bad weather or road work. Electronic media need to have their own message board: perhaps not a weekly summary of our time online, but a countdown of when we started, and the elapsed time.

Niklas Goke, the writer, asks why phones can’t be designed like toothbrushes. While essential, phones should be simple and not trigger us to continually be picked up. He proposes a  number of useful tips that can be applied to provisional phones. One of them is the common-sense screensaver that displays the current time and the message “Why am I in your hand? (see image above). at School & Home:

Slowing it Down at School and Home:

A third way to slow down the phone, of course, is external: parents and educators can set time of day restrictions. Around the world, a number of school systems do this: among them, France, Israel, and Australia (NSW). Parents need to set their own standard, using apps that compile their time online, or require that that teens’ phones be placed face down on the kitchen table at bedtime.

We live in a time when speed, phones, and the ability to act are co-mingled.  Speed will increasingly be the key to manage the Internet of things and future autonomous vehicles but in person- to-person relations it can be a detriment.

We need distance from our phones to reflect on the message content, be kind to others, and make better decisions. So, slowing down the phone…a vital facet of the provisional phone…. is about matching the pace of technology to a young person’s moral and emotional development.  A provisional phone with speed settings is a useful stop.

Smartphone Travel: Virtual and Veritable

I don’t travel far but my smartphone sends me far afield.”

A recent transportation paper suggests that younger people are wired at birth. The survey study by Boumjahed and Mahmassani, observes that ‘digital natives’ are more likely to engage in virtual activities as a substitute for trips done by private car.  This effect is more pronounced among those who say that they were technologically-engaged as kids.

It is a timely paper that reinforces the popular view that store-fronts and mall traffic are in decline as young people pivot to online activities. “The bottom line is that Americans are shifting from a society that prioritizes products to a society that prioritizes experiences”.  The net result is that spending behaviors, saving strategies, and most importantly, travel trips, are in flux.

Modifying Trends…

To some extent, this evolution of travel behavior was predicted. The earliest papers on transport/telecomm interactions doubted that electronic communication would displace trips Instead, Salomon, Mohktahrian, and others predicted that both the volume of communications and the volume of travel would be complementary and expand. Simply stated, more communications would make for more transport, and more transport would lead to more communications.

However, they also predicted a third interaction: while the entire system grows, technology modifies the type of travel taking. The nature of that travel is just beginning to take shape and form.

We recommend a recent paper in computational  science that used Instagram postings to illustrate the blending of tourist travel, local travel, and internet browsing. And, we cite two survey studies that suggest a new dyamic between long-distance trip taking and virtual communications.

The survey studies  are not academic, but both have fairly robust samples. Both are inspired by the travel industry. They are a worthwhile read because they hint that the demand for travel will continue to grow- but in a different way than previously imagined- Instagram and social media may take on new weight.  Keep in mind the op-cit remark that that, “… Americans are shifting from a society that prioritizes products to a society that prioritizes experience.”

Social Media Before and After Trip Taking

The first study, conducted by the AARP and aptly called “Travel Research: 2018 Travel Trends”  is based on interviews with 714 Baby Boomers, 403 GenXers, and 374 Millenials.

The study found that when compared with Boomers, the Millennials and GenX, were more likely to travel internationally. Why?  The stated reasons for travel were health, trying something new, and adventure. These younger groups were also more likely to say they would combine business travel and side trips.

The next part of the AARP study  is interesting: there is a tipoff that social media fuels the demand for international travel.  Eighty four percent of the Millennials and 67% of Gen X said they wanted to post their vacation pictures. GenX and Millennials were far more likely than Boomers to say that posting vacation pictures would be artistic, make them feel less alone, and provide boast and bragging rights.

Circling back to the original, more solid research by BouMjahed and Mahmassani, are younger people shunning routine and boring everyday travel because they can now travel further afield, and are social media and virtual networks seeding those adventures?

More Social Media and Trip Taking

The second long-distance travel study (op cit) was conducted in 2017 by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Expedia. It is also cohort based, with a total sample of 1,254.  Not surprisingly, given the study sponsors, social media was found to underpin trip making. Twenty seven percent of Millennials said they canvassed opinions on social media before booking a trip. More noteworthy is that thirty-six percent of Gen Z said they selected a destination ‘specifically because of postings they saw.’ Both groups said they were willing to sell furniture, take extra jobs, or do whatever it took to raise funds for their travel adventures.

It will take some time before we know whether these are just young people responding to a survey or actual sign- posts of change. However, as  Boumhahed and Mahmassani suggest digital natives may be wired differently when it comes to travel.

And More to Come…

Summing up, the internet and smartphone reduce the need for local, boring, and increasingly slow and congested everyday travel. Exercise, errands, and socializing are more  easily done from home or from a work place. So, it seems that store fronts will continue to close, and home deliveries will increase…. unless the autonomous vehicle changes preferences.

Meanwhile, more reliance on smartphones and social media could create their own demand for an entirely new category of trip taking. As predicted in the early studies of transportation/communication interaction there are modifications. One of them is the supersized, super-expansive, epic trip adventure generated by social media and posted on social media.



Micro-Mobility Tipping Point? 2020…

Micro-Mobility
Tipping Point for Micro-Mobility?

In 2018 micro-mobility takes place on Limes, Bonzos, and Birds.

In 2000 people travelled on Xebras, Kewet Buddies, and G-Wiz. The Human Transporter, otherwise known as the Segway, came to market in 2001 and  the Velib, the first generation of French bike-share, launched in 2007.

So, while micro-mobility is being reinvented in 2018, it retains a penchant for short perky brand names. And, that reinvention takes place in the shadow of previous start-ups.

This blog is informed by attendance at two Fall 2018 events: a micro-mobility street fair at Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass. followed by a sit-down conference with vendors, government officials, and academics.  I have worked on micro-mobility for over ten years in Los Angeles and based on that experience and the recent conference, make a few observations. It is noteworthy that Kendall Square, the location for these demos, was also the launching pad for a successful transportation technology, the ZipCar, launched in the year 2000.

2000-2018:

Specifically, what has changed since 2000, and will today’s crop of micro-mobility players achieve wider success?  Were the initial failures a function of the technology, the marketplace, regulations, or some combination of these factors? Will these factors repeat, or have there been significant changes in the transportation arena?  

First, we present the issues favoring new growth, and then, the counter arguments.  Note, we do not delve into the business practices or failures of individual companies, for example, Sidecar, which arguably preceded Uber but folded.

An Argument for Micro-Mobilty: What Has Changed in Two Decades

1. RIDESHARE: The most significant advancement for micro-mobility has taken place within  conventional automotives. Uber and Lyft have changed the dynamics of first and last mile travel, and uprooted taxi providers. They have also made it clear that private industry, not public agencies, stand at the forefront of leading change in the transportation field.

Although they only account for two percent of total trip taking today, Uber and Lyft have changed, practically overnight, the perception that it is OK to not have a personal vehicle and rely on your own car for every trip. Per conference speaker Assaf Biderman, a researcher and  founder of Superpedestrian, rideshare has set an important precedent for micro-mobility because 50 percent of trips are 5 miles or less.

2. NEW MARKET: GROWTH of the CHINESE/ INTERNATIONAL VEHICLE:

Tiny cars, like Bonzo, used to be called neighborhood electric vehicles, and have reached only niche markets in the U.S.. That has not been the case overseas. Sales of low-speed small electric cars experienced considerable growth in China due to their affordability and flexibility.  In 2016, China sold over 700,000 units in just ten months. In China these vehicles can be driven without a driver’s license. Demand for tiny electric cars incentivizes better battery technology and recharge options, but also spurs the need to reduce the width of residential zoned traffic lanes- a key issue for safe micro-mobility.

3. ZIPCAR & APPS:  While not a micro-transit service, per se, ZipCar was launched in 2000 and has arguably been the foundation for transportation ventures like rideshare. It has also helped legitimize spin-offs for short-term, on-demand car hire services. Most critically, ZipCar laid the groundwork for smartphone based, app-driven mobile services. There is currently no comprehensive Mobility As a Service  (MaaS) App in the U.S. that integrates the time and location of micro-mobility vehicles with traditional modes but it is under development. MaaS software will help micro-mobility reach new users and become more mainstream with door-to-door trip planning.

4. AUTONOMOUS/ELECTRIC: There has been growing recognition that rideshare was the first wave of disruption in the transportation industry, and the second wave will be even more extreme as autonomous vehicles enter the vehicle mix.  Meanwhile, advancements in electric batteries are making it more likely that the autonomous fleets will be electric, and an electric infrastructure benefits both bikes and scooters.

An Argument Against Micro-Mobility: What has Not Changed Over Two Decades

1. CAR CULTURE: At the Cambridge conference, Josh Westerhold from Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi made a compelling case that personal transportation (i.e. car ownership) is not driven by efficiency. Meanwhile, automotive marketing is the largest category of advertising and topped $47 billion worldwide in 2015. For the near future, the automobile industry will continue to promote the desirability of single vehicle ownership, and there will continue to be high levels of vehicle ownership, on the order of 8 cars for every 10 Americans.

2. REGULATION/RULE MAKING: Although Uber and Lyft have been disruptive to the taxi industry, state and local governments have been slow to react and resolve entirely new issues like curb space, driver screening, and sidewalk sharing. Curb space and public safety are also vital issues for micro mobility. At the Cambridge conference, Joseph Barr, the Cambridge Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation, observed that cities will need to rebalance their budgets as micro mobility reduces revenue from traditional sources like road taxes and parking.

3. WEATHER:  While climate change has often been a rallying cry for micro mobility, more immediate climate issues have not been fully factored. While small cars, like  Bonzo, offer some protection from inclement weather, it is not clear that they will operate on ice or snow. We do not know if regular commuters will rethink taking a scooter or bicycle when the weather turns inclement or cold.

4. DELIVERIES: Although cars sit idle 95% of day, vehicle owners rationalize the need for one because  they are a necessity for moving packages, groceries, and shuttling children around. To reduce the need for cars and trip generation, alternative means for package delivery and family space need to spring up.

5. DEMOGRAPHICS:  Finally, the audience at the Cambridge conference seemed to rally around a particular problem:  today’s micro-mobility options favor younger people, and particularly those who are single and without families. The emphasis on electric scooters, dock-less bicycles, and repurposing sidewalks does not serve other age groups, and in particular the elderly.

Save Our Sidewalks” or SOS as the Bird speaker, Hannah Smith quipped, requires the company to place ‘bird watchers’ in the field and work with municipalities to achieve better, safe, shared streets. The promise of micro mobility is not so new, but the problems (and potential)  it brings are not necessarily ones that were anticipated by existing, on-the-shelf, transportation master plans.

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.

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.

Looking for more posts on smartphones and mobility? Check out dearsmarphone.com and @dearsmartphone on Instagram.

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

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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?