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Aston Interactive Media laboratory is UK first

Aston Interactive Media laboratory

How many times do you walk and text? How often have you had an accident or near miss when walking and texting?

Approximately 70% of the world’s population own and use mobile phones and in the UK, mobile owners each have on average 1.8 handsets. This means a vast number of people, young and old, are using mobile devices, and the combination of walking and texting is making the average pedestrian increasingly susceptible to accidents or even death.

Overall, as many as 1 in 10 people in the UK are believed to have suffered injuries as a result of combining the two activities. In London, two teenage pedestrians are killed or injured every day as a result of being distracted – many times as a consequence of using mobile phones while walking.

Aston has created the Aston Interactive Media (AIM) laboratory – a UK laboratory first – which is designed to support the evaluation of human interaction with novel technologies (especially mobile technologies) in everyday, typically mobile and potentially hazardous, environments. 

Scientists are using a Dynamic Path System to create novel evaluation environments to allow them to (within a safe, controlled lab) assess the suitability of technology designs in terms of allowing a person to safely navigate his/her way through a series of hazards and distractions while using different technologies.

Dr Jo Lumsden, Computer Science lecturer and AIM Laboratory Manager, said; “Currently, the way mobile phone devices are designed means that we have to focus our visual attention and a lot of our mental processing resources on our mobile phone if we want to, for example, write and then send a text message.  Using the Dynamic Path System our research team can measure how many hazards along a path are typically missed when people are too focused on their phones and are unaware of their surroundings. This kind of knowledge helps us better understand the limitations of current devices and to improve on the designs of devices for the future.”

In the lab, research has shown that, on average, one in five potential hazards go unnoticed by users of mobile devices. In real life, this means that, for instance, one in five bollards, lampposts, raised kerbs, or even moving vehicles is likely to go unnoticed by people texting and walking.

The team will be using the lab to evaluate the safety of current and new mobile applications and to develop future technologies such as hands free technologies.

Words by Alex Earnshaw

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