Apple Patents 'Transparent Texting'; May Reduce Distracted Walking Injuries

   on April 01 2014 4:04 PM
Walking and texting
A man walking an texting Courtesy Reuters

If you live in a big city, or even a small one for that matter, you’ve undoubtedly seen it happen. A person texting on their cell phone trips and falls into a fountain or runs head on into a pole. You may laugh, indulging your sense of schadenfreude, but the people at Apple saw this as an opportunity. Instead of asking customers to change their habits, Apple patented a technology for "transparent texting," which puts a text box over a live video screen, enabling iPhone users to see where they’re going and text at the same time.

The patent, originally filed in 2012, has seen more media interest as a recent study showed the correlation between cell phone use and pedestrian injury. The incidence of “distracted walking” injuries more than doubled in the five years between 2005 and 2010, increasing from an estimated 256 injuries to over 1500, and is suspected to double in the next five years, according to a report published in June 2013 in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

 “If current trends continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of injuries to pedestrians caused by cell phones doubles again between 2010 and 2015,” said Jack Nasar, co-author of study said.

Apple’s transparent texting technology works by utilizing the rear-facing camera as a video throughput. Users will be able to turn the feature on and off at their leisure, which will save the overall battery life of the phone. Once a user turns the transparency feature on, a text bubble will appear over a live video so they can watch where they are going while they text. However, this probably won’t change the user’s gait, which recent study found is slower and more robotic when texting.

Published in January in the journal PLOS One, Australian researchers studied the cadence of 26 men over a short distance, once while reading text, once while writing text, and once free of distractions. The study found they not only slowed down, but also that the men couldn’t walk in a straight line, similar to being drunk. Lead researcher Siobhan Schabrun also noted that the men were more robotic in their movement, limiting head, arm and torso movements so they could maintain focus on their smartphones. According to Schabrun, a rigid posture increases risk of injury from falls.

Apple’s patented technology has yet to surface though, despite the surmounting data. Using a video camera can be very power heavy, which may be why Apple has chosen not to move forward on the technology yet. But as battery technology increases, leading to longer battery life and usage times, Apple may decide to implement the tech. For now though, the best way to prevent injury is just stepping to the side of the sidewalk to text and putting the phone away when you move. Or else you may end up like one of the people in the video below. 

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