Honda's ASIMO and other walking robots don't really look like much of match for catching up with people running away from them. But like zombies, robots never get tired and can just keep walking slowly towards you (as long as their batteries last, that is). Here are just a few examples of some robots that are starting to walk a bit more like us.
There are countless exercise videos and gadgets to help people exercise more effectively. Every fitness guru seems to have his/her own unique (and hopefully not patented) method for getting better results from physical activity. If you believe the infomercials, you can lose more weight in less time, just by following a few simple instructions (your mileage may vary). Here are just a few links on how you might improve your daily activity in some small ways.
Last year, we had the bizarre story of a woman who sued Google after she got hit by a car, while following Google's (beta) walking directions feature. The directions put her on a rural highway with no sidewalk or crosswalk, and as she crossed the street, she got hit. She sued both the driver and Google, but the Google part was what got the attention. The woman's lawyer tried to defend the lawsuit in the face of a lot of mocking, by claiming that Google somehow had responsibility here. When this case got attention, Danny Sullivan did a bang up job pulling images of the intersection from Google Street View, which suggest that this intersection was pretty obviously not designed for pedestrian crossing:
Thankfully, it appears that the court agreed with most of the folks around here who were left shaking our heads that this woman couldn't take responsibility for her own actions of crossing a street. The court
dismissed the lawsuit against Google. While Google had raised some First Amendment issues, the court doesn't even get that far in the discussion. Instead it just looks at the simple question of whether or not Google owed a duty to the woman, and found the answer to be pretty clear: hell no, it didn't:
In order to assert a claim for negligence against Google Rosenberg had to show that Google owed her a duty. The court applies a four factor test to determine whether Google owes Rosenberg a duty and concludes that Google does not owe a duty. Rosenberg did not have a special relationship with Google. Rosenberg argued that in other cases courts have held service providers liable for negligently providing services to customers, but the court says that this duty is minimal or non-existent when a publisher or other information provider "publishes information to the general public."
The court also notes that the fact that an injury is unlikely to occur counsels against finding a duty. Although Rosenberg alleged that an accident is more likely to occur along a rural highway such as the one she was on, the court says that an accident involving a pedestrian likely involves the pedestrian's own breach of their duty to yield to cars on the road
It's always nice to see a court agree with what basic common sense tells you.
Yesterday, we covered the bizarre lawsuit of a woman suing Google because she got hit by a car while trying to follow Google Maps' walking directions. Danny Sullivan, who broke the story, now has a follow up following a discussion with the woman's lawyer. Apparently, they feel the lawsuit is justified because it was early in the morning and it was dark out, so the woman couldn't properly see that the opposite side of the road had no sidewalk:
"It was 6 in the morning. It was not a busy street [then]. She believed there was a sidewalk on the other side." ....
"She was in an area that she'd never been to before. It was pitch black. There were no street lights. She relied on Google that she'd cross there and go down to a sidewalk."
Even if it wasn't a busy street, there's clearly no cross walk. And you'd have to think that even in the darkness, someone could recognize that. Again, Sullivan has the image:
On top of that, her decision to rely on Google is her decision. It's hardly Google's fault. And, if it wasn't a busy street at the time, you would think she would be able to time crossing the street to not get hit by a car. But she didn't:
In fact, Rosenberg never reached the other side. She left the end of Park Avenue to cross to the far side of Deer Valley Drive / State Route 224 and was struck while crossing.
The other bit of info that Sullivan cleared up is the fact that Google Maps walking directions on mobile phones do, in fact, carry a warning, which says: Walking directions (beta): use caution. The woman insists that no such warning was on the phone, but Google says it's been there since it launched walking directions.
There have been plenty of stories over the years of drivers blindly following their GPS over a cliff or onto railroad tracks. After doing such things, it may be natural for the driver to blame the technology, though it's unlikely to help you out much in court. However, it appears that one pedestrian has taken things a step further. After using Google's "still in beta" (for a good reason) "walking directions" while trying to get somewhere in Park City, Utah, she found herself on a highway, where she was hit by a car. So, in response, she's suing both Google and the driver of the car. Danny Sullivan explores the issue in much greater detail at that link, and comes to the same conclusion I assume many of you already jumped to: at some point, you just have to assume some sense of responsibility if you're the pedestrian. Sullivan pops out the following two Street View images showing the road in question, and wonders why the woman didn't realize that this road was not designed to be crossed. The first photo is of the intersection she would come to before crossing (note: no crosswalk):
And then, if she did manage to rush across that street, this is what she would see on the other site:
At some point, common sense is supposed to kick in and the pedestrian says, "hey, this is not designed for walking."
But, the woman who filed this lawsuit seems to want to blame everyone else for her own decision to try to cross a street that is obviously not for pedestrian crossing. In fact, the full lawsuit seems to contradict itself at points, since it seeks to blame both the driver who hit her for driving too fast... but at the same time seeks to blame Google for putting her on "a roadway that exhibits motor vehicles traveling at high speeds, that is not reasonably safe for pedestrians."
If the road itself involved cars that were too fast for pedestrians, then why is she also blaming the driver for driving too fast? On top of that, the lawsuit asserts that Google should have known that the road was not designed for pedestrians. Which leads me to ask a simple question: if this woman, who was standing on the side of the road herself didn't make that judgment, despite all the evidence in front of her, why does she assume that some routing algorithm at Google should have reasonably known that fact?
In the end, this looks like yet another case of a Steve Dallas lawsuit, where a big company is sued for someone's own mistakes, because that big company has lots of money.
A bunch of folks have been sending in various versions of this story -- and I have to admit, it sounds so ridiculous that it reads like an urban legend. I was hesitant to even write about it at first, but with so many mainstream media sources covering it, perhaps it really did happen. Basically, a girl who claims she was so focused on text messaging while working fell into an open manhole in Staten Island. Now, that should be embarrassing enough, but the really crazy part is the claim that the girl's parents are planning to sue the city for not adequately protecting their daughter from herself. At least they're not suing the mobile carrier or mobile device maker as well...
Over at CNET, a blogger is decrying the latest epidemic to hit New York City: people walking while texting on their phone. One imagines this has been happening in the city (and plenty of other places) for some time and people have been managing to survive, but this blogger apparently just arrived there on a business trip and noticed. It's the typical "man-these-people-are-annoying" type of thing, but his final suggestion is that "some fine district attorneys might find it in themselves to create a little misdemeanor out of this peculiar habit." Sure, it's annoying to get run into by somebody walking down the street and paying more attention to their phone than the sidewalk, but it's not too much more annoying than getting run into by somebody lost in a newspaper, or daydreaming. Perhaps we should codify laws making that stuff a crime, too, if we're looking for suggestions on how to waste police time. As has been pointed out before, this phenomenon really isn't anything new, but rather the latest iteration of the intersection of pedestrians and technology. Jaywalking laws haven't stopped people from jaywalking; pointless bans on doing certain activities while walking aren't likely to stamp out that behavior, either.
At the University of Virginia, there's a professor who studies "the historic relationship between pedestrians and motorists." Lately, he's been looking at pedestrians texting on their phones while crossing the street, and he says that the phenomenon
really isn't anything new, rather it's just the latest iteration of a historically recurring issue. He points out that a century ago, people crossing the street with their nose buried in a book were causing problems. The historical example is a little extreme, but it's valid nonetheless. Banning all sorts of activities, like talking on the phone while crossing the street, really isn't likely to be effective, as the professor notes. He points out that jaywalking laws didn't do much to stop people from crossing the street anywhere they liked, that in fact it was the stigma of being called a "jaywalker" (along with, presumably, the danger of getting run over) that had the biggest effect. He suggests calling people who text while they cross the street "textlemmings". That doesn't seem especially likely to catch on, but the underlying point is that, sadly, you can't ban stupidity, and laws banning things like texting while walking, don't really make people safer, and won't save stupid people from themselves. If you're already not paying attention to traffic while you walk and text, why would you suddenly pay attention to a difficult-to-enforce law?
Anyone want to take a guess on when we'll see the first laws proposed to ban the practice of walking-while-texting? We've already seen a few proposals that would ban walking and talking in a crosswalk. And, to add some fuel to the fire, some ER doctors are warning people who walk and text at the same time that it's risky behavior. The doctors say they're seeing a rise in reports of people walking and texting at the same time, leading to some sort of injury, including two people who were hit by a car after paying more attention to their phone than oncoming traffic. Since technopanics always seem to start with a news article, just wait for someone to propose a law against this -- rather than insisting that perhaps it's time to institute a little common sense. Update: Apparently, I'm too late. At least one state has already proposed just such a law.
Last month we pointed to some recent studies about how people walking while talking on mobile phones tend to do things that are riskier than those not talking on mobile phones and jokingly asked when politicians would start proposing bans on walking-while-talking, to go along with the popular bans on driving while talking. It didn't take long at all, actually. Parker Mason writes in to let us know that an Illinois lawmaker has proposed a ban on talking on a mobile phone while in a crosswalk. Combine that with jaywalking and you could really piss off a person who wasn't actually doing something dangerous. Actually, this isn't the first time such a thing has been proposed. Last year a similar law was proposed in New York, though I don't believe it went anywhere. It's nice that politicians want to protect people, but at some point you really have to ask why people can't take responsibilities for their own actions?