Wi-Fi Honk, an Android system recently presented at a conference on mobile systems, harnesses the bits of information your phone constantly sends out while searching for available wireless networks to connect to. The app picks up data on speed, location, and direction from nearby devices, which is then fed into an algorithm that predicts whether the user needs to be warned about an oncoming car or pedestrian.
Even if you can’t hear the traffic coming–whether because you’re hard of hearing or because you’re really wrapped up in your favorite podcast–it’ll ping you with vibrations and on-screen alerts as well as sound. It can also warn a driver that a pedestrian (or even a cyclist) is about to move into the car’s path, allowing the driver to brake.
It’s hard to say whether this (or similar cell-phone-enabled safety systems) could work before it is really put into widespread practice. A lot of phones would need to be equipped with Wi-Fi Honk to make it truly effective, since the app relies on the data beacons sent out by other Wi-Fi-Honk-enabled phones. But it does purport to solve what is becoming a significant safety issue: The more invested we get in fiddling with our phones as we walk, the less we pay attention to the world around us.
Several studies indicate that talking on a cell phone inhibits our ability to cross streets safely. And that’s just talking–not being immersed in Candy Crush or listening to music through noise-canceling headphones. Walking across an intersection can be deadly dangerouseven for those crossing legally, with the light. Sure, what we really need is slower cars and better intersections, but in the meantime, we could also use a little heads up.