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This Airplane Seat Knows When You're Nervous

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Airplanes are one of the safest ways to travel. Your chances of dying in a plane crash are roughly one in 11 million. The odds that you’ll be killed in a car accident, on the other hand, are much better: one in 5000. Still, about 30 percent of us find there’s something disconcerting about rocketing through the air at 500 miles per hour, 40,000 feet above the ground. Occasionally a passenger will experience a panic attack mid-air, causing chaos in the cabin or even forcing an emergency landing. A new concept for airplane seating is designed to know when you’re distressed and alert the cabin crew early on so they can comfort you, hopefully mitigating mid-air freakouts or illnesses before they get out of hand. 

The seats were designed by a group of industrial design engineering students from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands in partnership with Zodiac Aerospace and KLM. Each seat comes equipped with sensors that measure a passenger's heart rate. “The seat sensors are capable of reading the heart's electrical impulses through clothing and are able to use one’s natural contact with the seat to maintain a reading,” the students say

Data collected by the sensors goes to an app called Flightbeat, which cabin crew can use as a guide for how people are feeling. A higher heart rate in seat 15B may suggest a panicked or uncomfortable traveler, so the flight attendant could drop by with a glass of water or a blanket and provide some support. 

Sensors could also be used to measure how nervous passengers react to certain kinds of in-flight entertainment or meals. Do comedies calm their nerves? Can a complimentary glass of wine help reduce stress? Are certain areas of the cabin more nervewracking than others? A calm traveler is a happy traveler, and this kind of tracking could be a valuable tool for airlines looking to improve overall customer experience. 

Flightbeat is just one of many recent attempts at redesigning the dire seating situation on airplanes. The hunt is on for a design that lets airlines pack on as many passengers as possible without making them more uncomfortable than they already are. Some are more respectable than others: one concept called Morph uses a single sheet of fabric stretched over three chair frames, which can be easily adjusted to fit an individual’s body type. The concept eliminates the seatback versus knees dilemma and “brings the ergonomic, high-tension style of the Aeron Chair to air travel,” writes Joseph Flaherty at Wired.   

In 2017, Airbus is rolling out its A380 superjumbo plane that will feature a whopping 11 seats per row in the economy section—three at the windows and five in the middle. 

And then there’s this patent, from Airbus, for a seat that “looks like a cross between a bicycle seat and an office chair.”

The students behind Flightbeat think pairing sensors with wearable tech like smartwatches could provide even more personalized in-flight service. “It will be interesting to look deeper at the possible connections with smart watches in 2020 that could, together with Flightbeat, deliver added value to the experience of a passenger on-board,” they say

And if by chance you don’t like the idea of being monitored by your airplane seat, you can always opt out.

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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Google Home Is Finally Able to Multitask
NBD Photos, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
NBD Photos, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The hallmark of any great assistant is a talent for multitasking. Now, CNET reports that this ability is now a part of Google Home. The voice-activated device can finally process and execute two tasks that are said in a single command.

With earlier versions of the software, if you wanted to ask Google Home to cancel an alarm for a certain time and set a new one, for example, you would need to speak the first command, wait for it to be completed, and then say the second. The new feature allows you to string together both requests without pausing. This is the case for tasks that are related, like playing a song and turning up the volume, as well as those that are unrelated, like checking football scores and asking for cake recipes.

To save even more breath, you can combine this tool with Google Home’s Shortcuts feature. Shortcuts lets you assign short phrases to more complicated commands (like replacing “play workout playlist on Spotify” with “workout time”). Now you can use Shortcuts to have Google tackle multiple tasks at once by saying just a couple words.

The home assistant’s new ability is limited: Three tasks is still too much for it to keep track of, even if you’re pairing a two-task shortcut with one straightforward command. So after asking for a time and weather update, you’ll have to be patient before asking Google the answer to the universe.

[h/t CNET]

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