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App Provides Extra Eyes on the Road

iOnRoad warns drivers of an impending collision—but it can be a distraction itself.

A few high-end cars already come with technology that will issue a warning—or even brake automatically—if the dashboard computer thinks a crash is imminent. Now, for those of us who can’t afford this luxury extra, there’s a smart-phone app that aims to do something similar.

iOnRoad for Android detect and tracks cars on the road ahead using a phone’s camera and machine vision software. It also draws on a phone’s GPS, accelerometer, and orientation sensors to calculate the distance to other cars, and the speed at which they are traveling.

Just place your device in a mount on the dashboard and start up the app. Then your phone will diligently watch the road ahead, and beep a warning if you get too close to the vehicle ahead, alerting you to hastily brake before any damage occurs.

iOnRoad is a clever idea, and it highlights just how powerful and capable smart phones have become. Just few years ago, such an app would struggle on the fastest smart phone.

In practice, however, I found it a bit distracting. During a drive to Cape Cod last week, with the phone mounted beneath the GPS, my windshield felt cluttered. I kept glancing at the phone whenever a car outline changed from green to yellow (depending on how close I was), in addition to checking the GPS. With continued use of the app my eyes would probably stop drifting over to check how far away each vehicle was. Thankfully, I didn’t get into any near-collisions, and the road was pretty traffic-free.

The app can also work in background mode, so it’ll only sound and show a warning if it detects an imminent collision. So iOnRoad could run behind a GPS app while driving.

The Israeli company behind the app, Picitup, has previously created vision recognition software for to automatically cataloging products (which eBay uses). At first, iOnRoad will be free; and it will be available next month.

The app is programmed to beep if the user is tailgating (at speeds over 10 mph) or if it detects the user is under .7 seconds from crashing (with an accuracy of .1 to .2 seconds). It also has night vision mode, though I wonder how well it could make out cars in foggy or snowy conditions.

“I think early warning systems are likely to take the same track [as GPS],” Alon Atsmon, CEO of Picitup. “It starts in high-end cars and moves into dedicated devices and smart phones.”

He may be right, and overall I think this type of technology could help save lives. But I can’t help wondering if the proliferation of collision-avoidance technology might also breed less careful drivers.

Images courtesy of Picitup

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