Category Archives: Surface Transportation

traffic light

History of Traffic Signals

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I am happy to share a new theme that we are starting today that will appear now and again on EID. As many of you know, I a big fan of history. It is a cliché to say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But there is a lot we can learn from the scientific, legal, and cultural practices of our ancestors as well as from those around the world that our ancestors never even knew existed. That is the notion in which we are going to frame this new history theme.

I was listening to the Dinner Party Download podcast (a fun weekend diversion if you are interested) and I heard this story about the history of traffic lights. The human factors of the original design immediately jumped to mind, even if they didn’t call it by that name back in 1868 when the first gas powered lamps were used or 1914 when they switched to electric.

Kids on Laptop

Child Safety and Digital Devices

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The amount of screen time we are giving our kids has become a controversial topic. In part, this is because both sides have very good arguments. On one hand, it seems that we are better preparing our kids for the digital world that they will face in their professional future if we get them accustomed to and skilled with the use of digital devices early on, when learning is natural and intrinsic. But on the other hand, there are some consequences of this screen time. We worry that our youngest kids are not socializing effectively. And then as they grow older, they encounter new and often more serious consequences.

Excessive use of computer games among young people in China appears to be taking an alarming turn and may have particular relevance for American parents whose children spend many hours a day focused on electronic screens. The documentary “Web Junkie,” to be shown next Monday on PBS, highlights the tragic effects on teenagers who become hooked on video games, playing for dozens of hours at a time often without breaks to eat, sleep or even use the bathroom. Many come to view the real world as fake.

Apple-CarPlay

Smart Car Tech

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I have a feeling that self-driving cars are somewhere in our future, although I won’t hazard a guess as to when. This inevitability stems from the reality that humans are simply not as good drivers as we think we are.

  • We make more mistakes, some of which we never even realize because they don’t result in a crash.
  • We are constantly distracted by thoughts from our lives that intrude into our minds and divert attention from the road.
  • We drive in impaired conditions: overtired, taking medication that warns against “operating heavy machinery”, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, using our smartphone apps and texting, eating, shaving, applying makeup, etc. Pick your poison – you know you do it.
Sunbway

Guerrilla Wayfinding

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One of the wisest pieces of design advice I have heard is that user centered design is not about letting the user design the system. It should focus on finding out your user’s pain points and needs and workarounds and preferences. Then have skilled HF and UX designers turn that wealth of information into a design.

a gavel on some legal documents

The Role of Ethics in Human Factors Practice

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Editor’s Note – we are happy to introduce this guest article from Moin Rahman, Founder of HVHF Sciences. His bio and link to his company’s web site are located at the end of his article.

Is there a Hippocratic Oath – or something similar – for Human Factors Practitioners? At least I have not heard of one that is specific to human factors, although there is a similar oath for engineers. And there have been discussions about having an oath for scientists and engineers in general. Nevertheless, human factors professionals are driven by our morals and professional ethics to design devices and solutions that in the words of Asimov’s First Law of Robotics “[A robot] may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Good so far. But the ethics of a human-machine system or complex sociotechnical system (STS), particularly at the intersection of humans and safety critical technology may or may not receive the necessary attention it deserves.

Man riding bicycle

Turn Signal Bicycle Gloves

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Zackees has developed a new product that might be of interest to anyone in the product design, safety, or surface transportation areas. It is a pair of turn signal gloves for bicyclist that light up along the side when briefly held together. A blinking turn signal pulses at the back of your hand, letting motorists know you’re going to turn or pass, and on which side.

A circuit that lights the gloves brightens when sensors and a set of metal rivets connect. The metal rivets click when they do connect, giving you extra feedback so you know they’ve activated. Holding your thumb and pointer finger together starts the blinking turn indicator. The light turns off when you separate the rivets, or after a preset time so you don’t burn through the batteries because the rivets happen to touch in storage.

Caution Tape

Learning to Handle Risk

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There has been a lot of interest in this topic lately. Part of it is the prevalence of helicopter parents who work hard to prevent their kids from being exposed to risks of any kind. When I was a kid, my parents just sent me outside to play. Where I went and what I did was pretty much up to me, although based in part on the smarts and values that my parents had previously instilled. I wandered pretty far afield. And I got into a fair amount of trouble. But for the most part, I got myself out of it.

But adults have come to the mistaken view “that children must somehow be sheltered from all risks of injury,” Frost writes. “In the real world, life is filled with risks—financial, physical, emotional, social—and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development.”

Arcade Driving Game

Training and Generalizability

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I love sharing information like this with you. It irks me when I see all of the lofty promises from companies (that shall remain unnamed, but they advertise so much online that I am sure you know who I am referring to) that their brain training will make you smarter, and solve all of your memory limitations, and turn your kids into the next Einstein. I have shared before the results of studies that show how limited transfer of training is when it comes to cognitive processes. If you practice your working memory span, you can indeed increase your working memory span. But it doesn’t improve anything else, and if you stop practicing you lose the benefits.

One recent study found that older adults could significantly improve their ability to multi-task after playing a specially designed driving video game called NeuroRacer. Another study from researchers at the University of Rochester found that playing action-packed video games improved people’s ability to make quick decisions and ignore distractions.

Fireworks

One Year Anniversary

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In honor of the one year anniversary of EID’s relaunch (check out our first post ever here) under our new format, we thought we would copy an innovative technique used by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In addition to being a brilliant, award winning writer, he is also credited for having one of the best comment management strategies for his blog at The Atlantic magazine. One dimension of his strategy, which seems obvious on the surface but is incredibly rare, is to start with the assumption that some…

a car crash

Driving Assistance Part II

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We covered some of the likely human factors implications of automotive assist devices taking control of a driver’s steering in a recent post. The timing was perfect. In conjunction with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA recently conducted a study on lane departure warnings and blind spot monitors (to access the study you need a MA zip code such as 02188). Their findings provide an interest complement to what we discussed last month. We were looking a little further into the future. Their study has more immediate application.

If you are driving and make a jerky movement, would you be OK with the car taking over? If you had fallen asleep? If you had swerved to avoid an animal in the road?