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New smartphone app aims to make ‘distracted walking’ accidents a thing of the past

C’mon, we’ve all been there, walking down the street, engrossed in our smartphone, lost in a game, tapping out a message, zoning out to a newly downloaded music track.

While we all know that losing awareness of our surroundings when out and about can lead to at best an embarrassing incident and at worst a visit to the hospital, the reality is that sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.

With so-called ‘distracted walking’ accidents on the rise, a number of companies have been looking at ways to eliminate nasty surprises for smartphone users. Among them is New York-based One Llama, which has developed an app called Audio Aware that includes technology that acts as an “artificial ear.”

Audio Aware, which is set to launch for Android devices in March (guess iOS users will have to carry on getting knocked down for now), is designed to run in the background, listening all the while for “sounds like screeching tires and wailing sirens and alerting you to them by interrupting the music you’re listening to,” MIT Technology Review reported on Wednesday.

‘Perilous sounds’

The smartphone app will launch with a library of “perilous sounds” already installed, though users will be able to add new ones (low-flying aircraft? smashing glass? Piers Morgan’s voice?) and share them with friends.

The app and its technology, which has been developed by company co-founder and research scientist David Tcheng and his team at the University of Illinois, listens constantly for alert sounds using the device’s microphone.

When a match is made, any audio running on the device is paused, at which point an amplified version of the alert sound is fed through the speaker or earphones, giving the user a chance to take preventive action.

A number of apps and devices designed to ensure the safety of distracted smartphone users have been making the news in recent years, including Juan David Hincapié-Ramos’s CrashAlert system, which uses sensors to analyze the surroundings of a walking handset user, alerting them to potential hazards.

With the wearable tech market set to gather pace this year, companies like One Llama are hoping makers of gadgets like Glass and smartwatches will one day bake its technology into their devices.

[Image: Karyna Che / Shutterstock]

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