Most people are probably reading this article on their smartphones. And if they happen to be walking somewhere while scrolling, that makes them a proper smartphone zombie. Many are guilty of this potentially dangerous habit but now there’s a new invention that could save people from walking into a telephone pole or bumping into another distracted walker.
Minwook Paeng, an industrial designer from South Korea and innovation design engineering student at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, came up with an accessory that may just revolutionize life as we know it—a dystopian-looking robotic “eye” designed to keep a lookout for phone-scrolling walkers. Or at least make people more conscious about their phone obsession.
“People from modern society find it difficult to live an ordinary life without smartphones. It means they belong to the environment that the smartphones created,” the 28-year-old told VICE.
Aptly named the Third Eye, Paeng’s invention has nothing to do with spiritual enlightenment or supernatural Asian folklore, but is a tongue in cheek solution for smartphone zombies.
A gyro sensor in the “eye” detects when the user tilts their neck, which prompts the “eyelid” to open. Then, an ultrasonic sensor that looks like a pupil measures distance and spots any obstacles. When an obstacle is detected in front of the user, a buzzer is activated to alert them to look up.
In a demonstration video, Paeng affixed a prototype to a user’s forehead using a thin gel pad. According to Paeng, the Third Eye can also be worn using a headband or a hat.
“I tested it while filming the product introduction video. It works well, but there are many obstacles in the real world, so for effective usability, the product needs to be developed further,” said Paeng.
Since people tend to be plugged in with earphones while walking, Paeng is now trying to improve the Third Eye so that it alerts users of obstacles using other methods apart from sound.
But don’t search online to purchase this just yet. While the Third Eye is functional, it is not meant to be a commercial product so much as it is meant to inspire reflection on people’s relationship with technology.
“I hope the act of trying to ironically point out what we are doing with our smartphones may help people to take time for self-reflection,” Paeng said.
Prototypes of innovative solutions like this offer a glimpse into our near future as phono sapiens, a term that refers informally to a seemingly new subspecies of mankind that’s highly reliant on smartphones. The Third Eye is Paeng’s first design in a series that probes the emergence of phono sapiens.
“The smartphone has penetrated the lives of modern-day people too deeply that it’s impossible to deny the evolution of phono sapiens,” said Paeng. “We need to acknowledge and perceive this evolution so that we can face the situation we are in, objectively and critically.”
In the age of digital hyperconnectivity, not having a smartphone is now considered an oddity in many places. In fact, urban infrastructure is already adapting to the prevalence of smartphone zombies. South Korea, which boasts one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world, has conspicuous road signs at major traffic intersections warning phone-engrossed pedestrians. Meanwhile, traffic lights at some pedestrian crossings are installed on the ground to catch the attention of walking texters.
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