Yes, You Do Walk Weird When You're Texting, Scientists Confirm

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iStock

Texting while walking changes more than just your chances of running into a pole or another pedestrian. It alters your gait, according to a new study spotted by CNET.

In a recent study published in PLOS One, scientists from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK recruited 21 young people to text and walk under observation. The participants promenaded along an 18-foot-long walkway that contained a fiberboard a few inches high and a step-up box (like you'd find at a gym) designed to trip them up. They navigated the walkway 12 times each: without their phone, while talking on their phone, while reading a text, and while writing and sending a text.

When people whipped out their phones, they took a lot longer to traverse the walking path, which is no doubt a good thing. Compared to not having a phone at all, people took 118 percent longer to complete the task while writing a text. Navigating the walkway while reading a text took 67 percent longer than when there was no phone present, and talking on the phone took 83 percent longer.

The decreased visibility and attention clearly made people more cautious, and that changed their gaits significantly. "We found that using a phone means we look less frequently, and for less time, at the ground, but we adapt our visual search behavior and our style of walking so we're able to negotiate static obstacles in a safe manner," study co-author Matthew Timmis said in a university press release. "This results in phone users adopting a slow and exaggerated stepping action."

None of the participants tripped, and if anything, this study shows that distracted walkers are a little more careful than we give them credit for. They were able to successfully navigate the obstacles while not looking directly at them, a win for peripheral vision. Texting lanes have popped up in a few cities around the world (though mostly as a joke), and in one German city, there are ground-level traffic lights designed to keep texters safe in crosswalks.

Whether or not you think texting while walking is a problem, though, depends on who's doing it. A 2015 survey found that 74 percent of respondents believed "other people" had a problem with distracted walking, but only 29 admitted to doing it themselves. Meanwhile, reports of texting-while-walking accidents may be overblown, since there aren't official statistics on cell-phone-involved pedestrian crashes. The fact of the matter is, it's dangerous to be a pedestrian in the U.S., phone or no phone, largely due to road design rather than iPhone availability. (Sweden, where people also use cell phones, saw its lowest annual road deaths since World War II in 2016, and for the past three years in a row, fewer than 270 people have died on Swedish roads per year.)

Putting your phone down while you're walking down the street might have value beyond personal safety, though. As part of its digital detox program, the technology podcast Note to Self challenges people to put away their phone whenever they're in motion. It's supposed to help wean you off your dependency on your phone, but it could have the added benefit of making you look much more suave when sauntering down the street.

[h/t CNET]

This Amateur Rocketeer Builds Functioning, Miniature Replicas of SpaceX Rockets

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Amateur rocketry is a hobby that predates NASA. Hobbyists have successfully made it to space using rockets built without the massive budgets and resources available to larger organizations. And some of these rockets do more than reach incredible heights: As Motherboard reports, Joe Barnard, a 25-year-old rocketeer from Nashville, Tennessee, is working on making model rockets capable of propulsive landings, the same trick that makes some SpaceX rockets reusable.

Most rocket boosters that propel loads past the Earth's atmosphere are designed to go only one way. In 2015, Elon Musk's space exploration company SpaceX made history when it successfully maneuvered the boosters used to launch its Falcon 9 rocket back onto the landing pad. SpaceX says its latest version of the rocket can be re-flown up to 100 times, saving the company millions of dollars per launch.

Joe Barnard is bringing this same level of innovation to the amateur rocketry world. He first became interested in aerospace engineering after watching early SpaceX videos, and instead of earning a degree in the field, he taught himself the basics. He's since made rocketry into a career, founding Barnard Propulsion Systems (BPS), a small business that sells supplies to other hobbyists, and working on rockets of his own.

Like the rockets at SpaceX, Barnard's creations use thrust vectoring—the technology that makes it possible to navigate and stabilize a rocket after launch—only on a much smaller scale. He's built miniature models of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, and as is the case at SpaceX, his launches don't always run smoothly.

Barnard is still perfecting propulsive landings in amateur rockets, but for now he says each failure is a learning experience. You can watch the progress of his experiments on his YouTube channel.

[h/t Motherboard]

This High-Tech Skin Turns Almost Any Object Into a Robot

iStock
iStock

Instead of trading in their low-tech toys for fancy new gadgets, kids of the future may have the option to turn Teddy into a cyborg. As Gizmodo reports, researchers at Yale University have invented a robot "skin" that can give mobility to just about any inanimate object that can bend.

The researchers describe how this technology, called OmniSkins, works in a paper published in Science Robotics. The material, made from elastic sheets that contain sensors and actuators, can be wrapped around any malleable surface and controlled remotely or with on-board light sensors, essentially turning the item into a makeshift robot. The actuators in OmniSkins manipulate the object, while sensors can gauge exactly how much pressure needs to be applied to perform an action.

The project was largely funded by NASA, and it's easy to see how the tech might be used on one of the agency's missions in the future. On board a spacecraft, every cubic inch of space is precious, and the ability to repurpose something into a robotic arm or rover in a pinch would be invaluable to astronauts.

But the technology has potential applications on Earth as well, and not just to allow stuffed animals to walk on their own. Add a few of the skins to a shirt and it could automatically adjust your posture throughout the day, or you could use them to create a gripper to handle hard-to-reach objects.

You can see OmniSkins in action in the video below.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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