Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Solution to the "Texting While Driving" Problem


Here in the states there is a flurry of legal activity going on, trying to make texting while driving illegal on a national level.  This is a topic of great interest to me, for back in my NASA days I had come up with a solution to this problem which I believe belongs on today's mobile phones.

I called it the "Data Egg"; it was a new type of typing scheme which allowed you to type in any position, while walking, running, lying down, and yes, even driving - without ever having to take your eyes off the road. 
Originally designed to be a keyboard for astronauts (how does one type while floating in space?), it became clear in the early 1990's that it was also an ideal data entry solution for SMS messaging.  I built a crude prototype for myself just so I could capture the never-ending stream of thoughts and ideas that came to me at the worst possible times (I even published a few booklets of captured ideas over the years).  I also set up a web page to promote the idea (an idea which had its share of rabid supporters), which I have kept alive for posterity: www.DataEgg.org.  This site goes into the history, shows pictures of the many prototypes, uses, and suggested niche markets.


I spent more than a dozen years trying to commercialize the Data Egg typing scheme, an idea which was received poorly by investors: "Who would ever want to learn a new way to type just to use it?"  (Answer: When the solution is compelling, people will learn all sorts of things.  The original Palm PDA required learning a new alphabet to do data entry.  SMS messaging meant learning how to type on a 10-key.  Visicalc meant that suits had to learn DOS.  You get the idea.  And teenagers don't mind learning new things when there's a perception of coolness associated with it.)

If I were to try to market the idea today I would create one in the form of an external bluetooth keyboard, making it a solution that can work off-the-shelf nearly every smart phone out there (except the iPhone, of course).    But since most of the intellectual property associated with this idea has expired, I'm encouraging all the hardware and software geeks of the world to create an open source version of this device, and let me have a copy once it's in production.

("What does this have to do with photography?", I hear you ask?  Well, see that stock shot at the top of a teenager texting while driving?  I put a wireless flash on the transmission hump facing toward him, giving him dramatic light.  I also shot at 1/15th of a second so the blur out the window would make it clear that the car is moving as he's doing this.  (Yes; we staged this shot in a parking lot.)  So there you go!) 

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