The Punisher’s dashcam February 27, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
I recently posted an item about Russian dash cams. At the end, I wondered whether or not the presence of dash cams would affect the way that Russians drive.
Perhaps we have an answer already. Below is a video cutting together scenes from the dash cam of Alexei Volkov, a bus driver in Zelenograd near Moscow. Volkov has earned the name “The Punisher” because he relentlessly inflicts vigilante justice on people whom he considers poor drivers, that is, people who cut off his bus. His weapon? The bus.
Here is a typical event, as described in a recent piece in The Atlantic Cities:
Volkov performs some traffic maneuver that pisses off a nearby motorist. That motorist guns the engine to pull in front of Volkov and then slams on the brakes, because that’s always the smart thing to do in front of a 14-ton municipal transport vehicle. Much to the dismay of said driver, Volkov acts like he doesn’t see the stopped car and plows right into it, pushing it along the roadway like a bulldozer whose operator has fallen asleep.
Here are some examples of this process in action.
You can find more on Volkov’s YouTube Channel.
An interview with Volkov shows that he is unapologetic about his practice, and that his bosses are unconcerned, as long as Volkov does not lose any court cases. So far, he has a good track record, at least in that department.
So, this example illustrates a common theme on this blog, about how technology is not just a tool. The presence of a video camera does more than record already existing behaviors. It also can turn people into directors of their own shows, in which they become the stars by acting in potentially new ways.
Russian dashcams February 21, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
The recent and spectacular meteor strike in Russia has, of course, brought attention to the peril we face from space (or from sneaky American meteor weapons). One interesting facet of the incident has been the amount of live footage posted by Russians.
Note that the video was taken by a camera attached to the inside of the car. These cameras, known as “dash cameras” or simply “dashcams” have become celebrities in their own right, especially in Russia. Nearly every car in Russia is equipped with such a camera, explains this piece in Wired, because:
The sheer size of the country, combined with lax — and often corrupt — law enforcement, and a legal system that rarely favors first-hand accounts of traffic collisions has made dash cams all but a requirement for motorists.
Of course, it helps that the cameras have become quite affordable:
The technology running dash cams has gotten small enough and cheap enough that most Russian drivers are happy to pay the price. Good quality dash cams can be bought in Russia for as little as $50, or as much as $200. This small expense can conceivably save thousands in the event of a crash.
It also does not help that Russian roads can be icy, and that drunk driving or just poor driving skills are not as uncommon as they should be.
As a result, the ‘net is brimming with dashcam videos, often featuring spectacular crashes or other unpleasant altercations among Russian motorists. Here is a tolerable sample:
There are plenty of compilations of even more distracting videos, at Jalopnic, for example.
There is quite a bit that could be said about these videos. Obviously, they speak to the poor state of traffic on Russian roads. They also relate to the increasing ubiquity of surveillance in modern life, not from our authorities but from our fellow citizens. As a society, we are constructing a panopticon, one that seems to celebrate misfortune and bad behavior rather than promoting pro-social conduct.
It also brings us full circle, in a way. In 1923, Dodge introduced a coupe that was the first car with a totally enclosed, steel chassis. The main selling point of this new construction was the “appreciable new sense of security” that it gave to the driver. In brief, the enclosed chassis helped to keep the elements out of the car’s cabin, and thus separated the driver (and passengers) from the exterior in a way that was not possible in earlier designs. This separation tended to turn the experience of driving into one of watching a spectacle through a window, somewhat like on a movie screen.
Closer still is the later experience of watching television. In both cases, viewers sit back and take in what happens on the pane of glass in front of them. Now, with the advent of dashcams as pioneered in Russia, the experience of driving is being assimilated to the experience of watching TV.
It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this development will have on driving. It may prove tempting to drivers to look around the roadway for interesting things to record with the dashcam. So, dashcams could lead to greater driver distraction. Or, perhaps, they could prompt better driving as motorists pay more attention to what is going on around them than what is happening on their smart phones, say.
Whatever the case, the Russians may well be the first to find out.
Why Swedes like congestion charges November 28, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
Jonas Eliasson gives an interesting TEDx talk on why Swedes have accepted congestion charges in downtown Stockholm. There have been many approaches to the reduction of traffic congestion, often focussed on making traffic flow more efficient or on increasing road capacity. Experience suggests that these approaches do not work reliably. Congestion pricing, that is, charging people for driving cars in congested areas, has been the only strategy that reliably produces the desired result.
The example of Stockholm is consistent with this observation, as Eliasson notes. However, what is curious is his observation that residents of Stockholm came to largely approve of congestion pricing, having mostly disapproved of it initially, and also did not realize the changes that the plan has made in their driving habits.
How could people be unaware of the impact of this scheme on their own driving habits? Eliasson’s explanation is somewhat unclear. Congestion pricing “nudges” drivers into alternative behaviors, but what that means and what the alternatives are is not made explicit.
On the first point, a “nudge” is a small alteration to circumstances that causes a potentially large change in people’s behavior. For example, behavioral economists Thaler and Sunstein, in their book “Nudge”, note that retirement savings plans that, by default, subtract installments before people get their paycheques work much better than voluntary and post-payment plans. If people do not see the money in their paycheques in the first place, they do not experience its subtraction as a loss that they would rather not suffer. You do not miss what you never had.
In what way is congestion pricing a nudge? Perhaps, as explained here, it prompts people to try out public transit which they may well find they enjoy more than they thought. Where public transit proves to be agreeable, people develop the habit of taking it and so do not miss driving into the congested zone.
Of course, this explanation does not account for people’s amnesia about their former attitudes. However, human memory is reconstructed, not recalled from a rote store as in a computer. As such, what people remember is influenced by their current situation. As people find agreeable alternatives to driving in congestion zones, their feelings about the plan become more positive. When asked to recall their previous feelings on this matter, perhaps their positive feelings lead them to recall positive instances from the past and not so many negative ones. This bias towards positive past experience, in turn, justifies their positive feelings in the present.
Stockholm’s experience may serve as a model for other cities. It suggests that congestion pricing can be effective in reducing congestion, provided that agreeable, alternative transit options are available. It also suggests that the congestion pricing may be politically acceptable in the long run, although it is tough to sell in the short run as discovered in New York City.
Phone squatting June 7, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
An article about a new phenomenon, that I will call “phone squatting”, appeared in a recent New York Times. In a nutshell, phone squatting means parking your car in a parking space and then using your phone for calls, texts, etc. This phenomenon seems to be on the rise, and is sometimes a sore point for other drivers who covet the spot occupied by the squatter:
Brianne Miller was parked recently in downtown San Francisco e-mailing on her BlackBerry. She heard a honk, looked up and discovered a man in a BMW waiting for her spot. She signaled to him that she would be a few more minutes.
“He flashed an obscene gesture,” she said. She smiled and waved, trying not to escalate things. “He sped off in a huff,” she added with a laugh. “It was a really, really good spot.”
The article notes that the increase in phone squatting would seem to be a positive thing: It may reflect the growing acceptance that driving while texting or talking is not a good idea. Better to pull into a parking spot to use the phone.
The article, I think, does not get to the bottom of the drawbacks of phone squatting. As the example above suggests, the immediate issue is that other drivers may desire the spot taken up by the squatter. The person wanting the spot then gets frustrated when it becomes clear that the spot that seemed to be opening up is, in fact, not available.
If that were the only issue, then I think that phone squatting would not merit much attention. We would simply get used to this new and understandable practice. However, phone squatting also undermines the social contract that underlies how drivers share parking spaces. The understanding is that the purpose of parking spaces (in most cases) is to provide drivers with access to neighboring amenities, such as stores. That is, a driver parking in a spot is expected to get out of the car, do some shopping or visiting, and then return and leave, freeing the space for another visitor. The practice of phone squatting violates this expectation because it treats the spot itself as the amenity: The driver does not exit the car while making use of the spot. Other drivers may see this use of parking spaces as illegitimate. As Brianne Miller notes, she had a “good spot”, good not merely as a place to put a car but good as a place from which nearby amenities could easily be accessed.
What is to be done? One option is to do nothing. With time, the public may simply come to understand in a new way how parking spots are to be shared. If drivers come to regard them as amenities in their own right, then the problem will cease to exist, at least as a matter of social contract. However, many parking lots are provided by businesses for the convenience of clients, and those businesses are not likely to welcome squatters. Perhaps certain spaces could be designated for squatting, much like spaces for people with special needs. Spaces on the periphery of parking lots might be ideal, as they would be less likely to inconvenience paying customers. Of course, businesses may not be thrilled with paying for such spaces either, although it might make for some good PR.
Another possibility would be for government to pay for parking spaces designated for squatting or, at least, available for squatters. Given the increase in public safety to be had from providing such spaces, this system might be a good value for the public expenditure. Of course, taxpayers might insist that drivers should simply upgrade to hands-free devices, which remain legal for use while driving in many jurisdictions. Why make the public subsidize drivers who do not invest in proper equipment?
In fact, I think that designing a proper solution to this issue would have to await more systematic study of it. Where does this issue really become a problem, when, and for whom? Whatever the answer, it provides a good illustration of how the design of technology, including cell phones and parking, reflects a mutual understanding about how certain resources are shared in the public realm.
Is your car too smart? May 18, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
Robert Charette at IEEE Spectrum reports on complaints that computerized amenities in modern cars are too confusing for many drivers. Car producers are packing more and more computerized features into the cabins of cars for operators to interact with. Unfortunately, the operators sometimes have difficulty figuring out how to work their new toys. The MyFord Touch system, for example, has attracted complaints that it is too complex for people to operate.
To deal with the problem, Ford is trying to persuade dealers to become more expert in the operations of these new, in-car electronics. With greater training, dealers can then help to train buyers in the ins and outs of their new computerized gear.
Charette puts the problem down to poor design:
Of course, it might help if car designers spent a little more time with their human factors counterparts to make the operations of the electronics more transparent and easy to use. There has been several occasions where I would have been more than pleased to explain in detail to the designers of several of the electronic systems on my Toyota Sienna how they got it dreadfully wrong. Needing a couple of hundred page manual to explain how to use my car’s electronics is a symptom of the problem.
It would not be the first time that poor design sabotaged a new, in-car system. Early versions of BMW’s iDrive system were notoriously difficult to deal with, requiring drivers to use a joystick to navigate a hierarchical menu system to operate the simplest functions, e.g,. the radio, all while driving at speed. Usability has always been an issue for the software industry, which has a tendency to present functions in a way that prioritizes their abstract relationships rather than their practical uses. Now that cars are ever more computerized, these problems with software design have become problems for automotive design.
The response of having dealers train users is reminiscent of the problem of training new drivers when cars themselves were a new invention. In his book, “User unfriendly“, Joseph Corn documents how the first automobiles confounded their users. Cars were radically different than the familiar horse and buggy, and early operators experienced many problems with driving and just keeping their machines working. Auto manufacturers responded by training dealers enough to talk up the features of their cars, and by issuing manuals that purported to explain their purchases to new car owners. Neither effort was much of a success. The situation was amended only when new technologies made cars reliable enough to work without so much fuss by the drivers.
It may be that this will have to happen with in-car electronics too. That is, instead of training drivers to adapt to their gear, automakers will have to design the gear so that drivers can operate it without so much preparation.
Stay in your lane! January 24, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
The New York Times has an article discussing computerized systems that allow cars to stay in their lanes by themselves. Basically, forward-facing cameras on the rear-view mirrors attempt to track the painted lines on the road and keep the car in between them. If the car begins to drift out of the lane, then the system can display a message, issue a verbal warning, or even instruct the steering system to bring the car back within its lane. The system can be disabled by the driver and remains inactive if the car’s turn signal is on.
(Don O’Brien/Wikimedia Commons)
The basic idea is definitely a win. After all, when a car leaves its lane unintentionally, then the risk of an accident increases. The article also notes some of the limitations of this kind of system. For example, marks on the roadway may not be very distinct and thus would be impossible to follow. Also, glare from the sun or from the headlights of oncoming cars can wash out the image in the cameras, rendering the system unusable. I presume that the system is programmed not to take any action when it detects such circumstances.
Another issue pointed out in the article is that of risk compensation, the tendency of people to increase their acceptable level of risk due to their knowledge that safety equipment is present. If drivers believe that their cars will automatically keep them in their lanes, then they may cease to pay close attention to the road, raising the risk of an accident due to some unnoticed problem. The likelihood of such behavior increases further given that most drivers will have other gear, e.g., cell phones, that soak up any spare attention.
I would just add that there is the potential for privacy and security issues as well. The article does not say, but I imagine that the system tracks the history of its use in an on-board computer. Thus, someone could access the car’s computer and figure out whether or not it left its lane. It might be possible to correlate this information with any GPS or other data available in order to reconstruct a complete log of the car’s whereabouts and behavior. Who should be allowed access to this data? Of course, the police could obtain it with a court order. But does it belong to the car’s owner or the manufacturer? Car manufacturers might find uses for the data, perhaps to mine it to analyze how their cars are actually driven on the roads, and how they perform under different conditions. Nissan supplies similar data from its cars to a social network called Car Wings that it runs. This network tells drivers how they have been doing, compared to their past history and to other drivers. These comparisons are intended to help drivers use their cars more efficiently. Will data from lane-keeping system end up on a proprietary network? Will manufacturers strike a deal with Facebook to post the data there?
Then there is the security issue. The computer systems in cars are vulnerable to hacking, even from outside the car itself. Security researchers have been able to hack into cars and control the vehicle brakes, one wheel at a time, for example. A car with an autonomous lane-keeping system might allow a malicious intruder the opportunity to take over the steering system as well. It is important for the acceptance of more automated automobiles that they do not become more vulnerable to outside interference.
Flashing lights January 11, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
Scott recently commented on the use of Twitter by drivers to warn others of RIDE checkpoints. Police do not like this use of Twitter because they regard it as obstruction of justice. After all, RIDE programs are a legitimate bit of police business and, furthermore, are designed to protect the public from drunk drivers. Even so, as Scott points out, it is not clear that authorities have the right to censor or censure people for using Twitter in this way because of their right to freedom of expression.
I am reminded of a similar controversy over drivers who flash their headlights to warn others of speed traps. In a recent case in the UK, a driver was successfully prosecuted for obstruction of justice for doing so:
Presiding magistrate Jean Ellerton told him: ’We found that your flashing of your headlights was an obstruction, we found that you knew this action would cause vehicles to slow down and cause other motorists to avoid the speed trap and avoid prosecution.’
In Florida, driver Eric Campbell is suing the State after being ticketed for flashing his lights after spotting a radar trap. He was given a ticket apparently on the ground of a law that prohibits the use of lights in imitation of emergency vehicles (which often use flashing lights). He fought the ticket in court and got it dismissed but is suing on the grounds that the real intent of the ticket was to suppress his freedom of speech in communicating with other drivers.
Here in Ontario, there is a similar law that prohibits drivers from flashing their lights to imitate emergency vehicles. The article also states that there is no specific law that forbids Ontarians from flashing lights to each other to warn of speed traps. The rationale for having no such law seems to stem from considerations of freedom of expression:
“It’s not an offence under the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario,” confirms Sgt. Cam Woolley of the Ontario Provincial Police. “Drivers are free to communicate with each other.”
“Ever since speeding laws were enacted, motorists have been warning each other,” says Woolley. “Truckers use a lot of signals. They also warn each other on CB radio.”
Woolley says the police themselves often warn drivers of speed traps by announcing “hot zones” on radio stations, or by using pixelboards or fixed signs to identify school zones and other areas where radar may be present.
In fact, the OPP recently reverted to a traditional black-and-white paint scheme on their vehicles so that cruisers are easier to spot.
“Visibility is a key thing that we do,” he says. “We want motorists to see our presence and act lawfully.”
Nevertheless, police do sometimes hand out tickets in response to the practice, even though they may well get thrown out in court afterwards. In a recent incident, a Guelph driver was pulled over for warning other drivers and found to be driving with expired plates and driver’s license. Police exalted in their victory:
In a media release, Guelph Police seemed to savour the rare triumph over someone who tries to warn other motorists about speed traps, noting “it doesn’t pay to stand out in a crowd.” The release was titled “Good Samaritan Warns the Wrong Motorist.”
So, we have a mosaic of policies and practices.
Much of the debate on this issue centers on whether flashing high beams to warn of speed traps and the like should be compared to their use to warn of road hazards (e.g., your headlights are off, or there is an obstacle on the road ahead of you), which is the view of motorist advocates, or should be compared to communications in a criminal gang (e.g. the lookout who warns the other burglars that the cops are coming), which is the view of some police.
Whatever the case, there is another matter to consider here. I have to admit that I tend to signal other drivers when I see a trap. Also, I enjoy it when others signal me on the road. The exchange of warnings forms one of the few opportunities for positive social interactions among drivers, who so often figure otherwise as mere obstacles in one’s path. Driving can be an isolating and technostressing experience, so I think that many drivers simply crave the chance to do something they can feel positive about. Perhaps we should be thinking of was of designing roads and cars so that there are more opportunities of this sort, at least ones that do not distract drivers from the road.
Is phoning/texting while driving addictive? December 20, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
Here is an interesting piece from the New York Times on how to understand why drivers use their phones while driving, even when they understand the issues attached to that behavior. The debate over driving while distracted by networked gizmos is not new (see here, for example). As distracted driving continues to contribute to accidents, calls for action increase. The NTSB recently called for a ban on talking or texting on phones while driving throughout the US. Ontario recently enacted a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving.
However, such laws seem to be honored more often in the breech than in the observance. Drivers in BC, for example, seem to be largely ignoring the ban in their province. Furthermore, it is not clear how well such a ban could be enforced.
So, why do people engage in behavior they know to be risky and that has, in some places, been made illegal? Driving while texting has often been compared with driving while drunk, which poses a similar risk of injury. Yet, the analogy does not help to explain the behavior, as Dr. Greenfield of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine notes:
… people who drive drunk do not find any satisfaction in doing so. In contrast, checking e-mail or chatting while driving might relieve the tedium of being behind the wheel.
Instead, Greenfield and others compare driving while distracted with smoking, an addictive activity that some people also enjoy in the car.
Although cell phones are clearly not narcotics, they do have qualities that could make them addictive or, at least, habit-forming:
Part of the lure of smartphones, he said, is that they randomly dispense valuable information. People do not know when an urgent or interesting e-mail or text will come in, so they feel compelled to check all the time.
“The unpredictability makes it incredibly irresistible,” Dr. Greenfield said. “It’s the most extinction-resistant form of habit.”
In other words, cell phones provide a randomly scheduled operant conditioning regime to the user, a well-known and powerful way of creating behaviors that become ingrained and are difficult to undo (“extinguish”).
Dr. Paul Atchley of the University of Kansas argues that addiction is not the right notion, instead preferring an economic analysis. In his view, people respond quickly to cell phone beeps and burps because the information they provide rapidly loses value. A text that has just arrived may contain “hot news” that is most informative if read right away. The same text becomes less informative or valuable if the user puts off reading it for a while. It gets stale, and newer items pop up in the meantime, which tends to devalue the old ones.
Along the same lines, Clifford Nass of Stanford University points out that texts contain not just any old information but often convey information from friends. Because people are social animals, such information is important to them and, thus, they are responsive to it:
Drivers are typically isolated and alone, he said, and humans are fundamentally social animals.
The ring of a phone or the ping of a text becomes a promise of human connection, which is “like catnip for humans,” Dr. Nass said.
“When you tap into a totally fundamental, universal human impulse,” he added, “it’s very hard to stop.”
Each of these explanations suggests various approaches to address the problem. Perhaps cell phones could have a “driver mode”, like airplane mode, that disables or re-schedules the behavior of the cell phone. If the cell phone provided messages on a regular schedule, say every 5 minutes, then the compulsive reinforcement could be reduced or avoided. The phone could even generate boring auto-messages (spam) for the purpose. After a while, perhaps drivers would no longer care so much about that last beep and leave the phone on the “hook”.
Outgoing texts or calls could also be diverted to a temporary storage queue, for delivery after the driving mode is turned off. In that way, there would be less motivation for sending the message during driving itself instead of simply waiting for a break in the trip.
Of course, measures like these would work only so long as drivers honored the “drive mode”. They could cheat just by turning drive mode off and returning to normal operating mode. Dr. Atchley’s work suggests that there might be a way of dealing with this problem also. He tested teens to see if they would accept some sort of reward in lieu of receiving a text right away. He found that they would. Perhaps turning on “driving mode” could be associated with a reward which would be diminished or lost if it is turned off before the trip is over. We might, in effect, gamify driving without texting.
I note that this approach is taken by the TextNoMore Android app. It will be interesting to see if it works.
There is one more factor that may contribute to texting/phoning while driving. We have all seen other people doing so while driving virtuously ourselves. Next time you are on the road, glance at the drivers of other cars around you and you will soon note some who seem to be looking down at their flies quite a bit, or who have a phone nailed to their ear. Being social animals, people will always feel the sting of seeing scofflaws getting away with something. A natural response is to feel that this situation is unfair: Why do they get the benefit of texting while driving without suffering any penalty, while I do not? One way in which people seek redress is to engage in the illicit behavior themselves.
Perhaps a way to address this issue is to publicly shame those who text and drive. I do not mean they should be put in the stocks in the town square. Think instead of those radar speed signs that measure and display your speed as you pass them by. These signs seem to be somewhat effective in getting people to slow down. I suggest that similar signs be developed that can detect the presence of phone/text signals emanating from cars in traffic and display this fact for all to see. In that way, transgressors can be reminded to use “drive mode” and everyone else can see this occur. Then the appearance of unfairness is also addressed. Of course, the coverage of such signs must be limited, so it is not a perfect solution.
In-car infarctions July 28, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202 , comments closed
A FastCompany article reports that Toyota plans to equip steering wheels in their cars with ECGs in order to detect when the driver is having a heart attack. The idea seems to be to read the drivers’ heart rates through their hands gripping the wheel. Why?
If a vehicle can detect that a driver is having a heart attack, alert him to pull over, and then automatically call 911, many lives could be saved.
Well, who would question the saving of lives on the road?
Some obvious issues with this plan relate to the sorts of errors such a system would make.
- False positives: The system could mistake some other event for a heart attack. Can the system distinguish the rhythm of a heart attack from, say, the rhythm caused by swerving to avoid a collision? Suppose that the driver was maneuvering suddenly to avoid a deer when the car says, “Hey! You’re having a heart attack! Pull over immediately.” Or, we might find out just how many people really watch porn while driving.
- False negatives: The system could mistake a real heart attack for something else. In that event, the system does not help to prevent consequences of a heart attack.
Then there is the problem of effectiveness of the response. Would alerting someone that they are having a heart attack help to save them from creating an accident? At low speeds, the driver may be able to pull over. However, news reports of drivers having heart attacks seem often to speak of the driver losing control of the car, as in the case of Macho Man Randy Savage:
TMZ spoke with Randy’s brother, Lanny Poffo, who tells us the wrestling legend suffered a heart attack while he was behind the wheel around 9:25 AM … and lost control of his vehicle.
Florida Highway Patrol tells TMZ … Savage was driving his 2009 Jeep Wrangler when he veered across a concrete median … through oncoming traffic … and “collided head-on with a tree.”
Would a flashing light or verbal alert prevent such outcomes or would the driver be too incapacitated? In that event, perhaps the car should flash the four-way lights and bring itself to a gradual stop. (Of course, that would not please porn viewers.)
Here’s an interesting thought: Suppose that the system can distinguish reasonably well between heart attacks and other sources of heart-rate anomalies such as sexual arousal. Should the car then issue you a warning in the latter case? Alert the police that you are a potential menace to others on the road? Or, perhaps, simply issue you a ticket? Once such data is available, the community may have a legitimate interest in its use to preserve public safety.
Another benefit touted for the system would be a simple increase in medical data:
A daily reading of your heart could result in patterns that might not be seen at your less-than-annual physical.
That may not be a bad idea, although it encounters the same issues as above regarding false positives and false negatives. Since we have not routinely collected massive amounts of health data on individuals (who are not currently hospitalized), your doctor, and Toyota, may not be sure how to interpret it. Which patterns merit concern and which are merely within normal variation?
Also, what would Toyota do with the avalanche of health data it receives about all these drivers? Would the company have the right to sell it to third parties? (Did you know that car rental agencies can share your credit card data with companies that operate speed cameras?) I can imagine that drug companies would be very interested. Perhaps they could identify new, suspicious heart-rate patterns in drivers that could be treated with patented drugs. And, as always, insurance companies might be interested also.
The good that might emerge from data-collection systems can be substantial. To realize these benefits, we have to be mindful of the potential challenges as well.
GPS navigation fatality? May 12, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302 , comments closed
The unfortunate saga of Albert and Rita Chretien of Penticton, B.C. continues to take new turns. After recuperating for a few days in hospital, Rita Chretien has said that she and her husband got into their difficulties following their GPS navigator:
[Sgt. McKinney of the Elko County Sheriff’s Office] said the Chretiens used their new GPS to find the shortest route to Jackpot. If they had typed the town’s name into the device from anywhere in the area, the shortest route would have led them off-highway and along possibly a half-dozen different Forest Service roads labelled only with numbers.
“I’m no expert on GPS devices and how they work, but if you plug in for the shortest distance to any location, it’ll give you that, but that’s not always the best way to go,” McKinney said of the remote, rugged terrain.
(“Sat Nav” = “GPS navigator”; Image courtesy of David Stowell via Wikimedia Commons.)
Designers of GPS navigation systems tend to blame their clients for such incidents, arguing that people need to remember that they are the boss, not their GPS unit. Here is my favourite example:
Joachim Siedler, spokesman for market leader Blaupunkt, said it was absurd to blame the gadgets for human errors and noted motorists are clearly warned the devices are there to help, not to take decisions.
“If a traffic light is red it’s obvious you have to stop even if the satnav says ‘drive straight on’,” he said.
“People who drive into rivers and then blame their satnav are just too humiliated to accept blame themselves.”
One German did drive his car into the Havel River near Berlin on a foggy Christmas Day. He said his satnav had made a ferry crossing look like a bridge.
ADAC spokesman Maurer said humans are ultimately responsible for the blunders but noted that satnavs are not infallible.
“I was on a motorway recently and my satnav said ‘turn left now’,” he said.
“If I had done, I would have crashed into the guard rail. It was using an outdated, pre-motorway map.”
Perhaps people should consider carefully before even buying a system from a company that uses outdated maps!
A British man was even convicted of a crime two years ago for following his satnav directions nearly off a cliff.
There are many things one might say about this situation. I will just make two observations:
- No one seems to be tracking these sorts of errors. That is, to my knowledge, no research is being done on how often such mistakes happen, or what the consequences are. Thus, we have no way of evaluating claims that people are getting dumber or that the GPS systems are not well designed. If you know of any, then please let me know. So far as I can tell, we are simply conducting a huge, uncontrolled experiment on the public.
- How do GPS navigation mistakes compare with mistakes made by people using maps? Would the Chretiens have followed a route that looked short on a roadmap in the same way they appear to have followed their navigation unit? I doubt it, but it is hard to say without systematic research.
If GPS units do result in more navigational failures than maps, then it seems fair to conclude that there is something about their design that is contributing to the problem. What might that be? How could it be addressed? Until we as a society take this issue seriously, we will never know. Perhaps this latest incident will provoke some more thoughtful investigation of this issue.