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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]

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Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL
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MIT’s New AI Can Sense Your Movements Through Walls Using Radio Signals
Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL
Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

New artificial intelligence technology developed at MIT can see through walls, and it knows what you’re doing.

RF-Pose, created by researchers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), uses wireless signals to estimate a person’s pose through a wall. It can only come up with a 2D stick figure of your movements, but it can nonetheless see your actions.

The system, described in a new paper [PDF], uses a neural network to piece together radio signals bouncing off the human body. It takes advantage of the fact that the body reflects radio frequency signals in the Wi-Fi range. These Wi-Fi signals can move through walls, but not through people.

Using data from low-power radio signals—1000 times lower than the power your home Wi-Fi router puts out—this algorithm can generate a relatively accurate picture of what the person behind the wall is doing by piecing together the signals reflected by the moving body.

The system can recognize movement in poor lighting and identify multiple different individuals in a scene. Though the technology is still in development, it’s not hard to imagine that the military might use it in surveillance, but the researchers also suggest that it may be useful for video game design and search-and-rescue missions. It might also help doctors monitor and analyze the movements of patients with disorders like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

This is just the latest in a series of projects using radio signals to mimic X-ray vision. CSAIL has been working on similar technology using Wi-Fi signals for several years, creating algorithms to recognize human forms and see motion through obstructions. In the future, they hope to expand the system to be able to recognize movement with 3D images rather than the current 2D stick figures.

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Live Smarter
This $40 Wireless Keyboard is Solar-Powered and Might Just Revolutionize Your Workspace
Logitech
Logitech

Meet the $40 solar-powered keyboard that's about to make your life a whole lot easier.

The Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard can be charged by sunlight as well as artificial lights, like your desk lamp, and stays juiced up for at least three months in total darkness. With this innovative gadget, Logitech is eliminating the annoyances that come with other wireless keyboards, like constantly having to change the batteries or plug it in to recharge. Best of all, the Windows-compatible model is on sale at Amazon for $39.99, down from $59.99. Never fear, Mac users—there's a model for you, too (although it's slightly pricier at $54.88).

(Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy.)

Having a reliable wireless keyboard can save you time and undue stress, whether you work in a cubicle or a home office. Plus, at one third of an inch thick, the keyboard is so sleek that Logitech compares it to typing on a laptop (and Amazon reviewers agree). You can monitor the gadget's power level by downloading the Logitech Solar App for your computer. Setting it up is easy: Just plug the receiver into your computer and you're done. It also comes with a three-year warranty for peace of mind.

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Logitech

Customers rave about this gadget on Amazon: One person writes that it's "the single best keyboard I have ever owned." Another loyal customer notes, "I first encountered one at work, and I liked it so much that when I switched jobs, I had to get another!"

Take advantage of this deal on Amazon while you can. While you're at it, check out the $95 mattress that Amazon customers are losing their minds over.

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