Distracted Driving

Australia’s Using Cell Phone-Detecting Cameras To Catch Distracted Drivers

Australia has officially begun using new technology to help combat one of the 21st century’s biggest issues: people using their phones while they’re behind the wheel. Specifically, the state of New South Wales is currently installing multiple high definition cameras that are especially made for capturing images of drivers using their cell phones while driving. 

New South Wales (NSW) is the first place in the world to implement this sort of technology throughout its roads. According to NSW’s official statement, the cameras use artificial intelligence to capture and review the images of drivers, and the AI software is able to detect if the driver is using their phone or not. These cameras are mounted in stationary locations, like a standard traffic camera light, and also on mobile trailers for on the go monitoring.

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The technology isn’t the only thing that NSW’s transportation department is relying on for catching drivers illegally using their phones. Once an image is captured by a camera, it then needs to be verified by authorized personnel, according to NSW authority. They also stated that all images would be securely stored and managed amongst the transportation department. Individuals behind the technology understand that the cameras could capture drivers while they’re simply moving their phone or checking the GPS, hence the personnel review of the images to ensure appropriate action is taken against individuals actually using their phone illegally. 

“The NSW Government is serious about reducing our state’s road toll and rolling out mobile phone detection cameras is another way we will do this,” Andrew Constance, New South Wales’ minister for roads, said in a statement.

Over the next three years NSW plans on mounting a total of 45 portable cameras throughout the state in locations that will be kept classified from the general public. The cameras will also offer no sort of warning sign in regards to where they’re located, as that would defeat the purpose of catching drivers in the act. 

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Throughout the past year NSW’s government has been recording trial data from the new AI camera technology, and reports state that over 100,000 drivers were captured illegally using their phones while driving from the cameras alone. Obviously none of those caught in the act were punished, as the government didn’t officially announce the use of this new technology by that point, but the data has now been made available to everyone as a sort of warning on how accurate this technology actually is.  

In the official announcement for the new technology, NSW’s transportation department stated that for the first three months that the cameras are installed, drivers who are caught will receive a warning letter at first, instead of an actual fine. After the initial three months, or if an individual gets caught more than once within those three months, offenders will receive a fine of up to $345, or $460 if they’re caught in a school zone, and penalty points will be added to their license. 

While some individuals think the punishment is aggressive, New South Wales implemented this technology in response to the amount of car fatalities that could have easily been avoided had the driver not been looking at their phone. In NSW alone, 330 individuals have died in 2019 from cell phone driving related incidents. The state is aiming to cut that number down by at least 30% with this new technology, and based on their data projections, they should have no problem in achieving that goal and keeping their streets safe. 

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Google Announces New Line of Products at Made by Google 2019 Event

Today, Google held a press event during which they discussed their new line of products, as well as their advancements in engineering and design, with a particular focus on how progress in artificial intelligence and machine learning has affected their business.

Google began the event by discussing the company’s mission, which is to help people in their lives without intruding on their daily lives. Google calls this concept “ambient computing,” by which they mean interactions with computers that exist in the background, rather than ones that occupy the user’s attention by being obvious and intrusive. Google claims that this concept informs the development of all of their products, and stated that all of the products announced at the event would demonstrate the value of this approach to computing.

The first product Google described was the Pixel Buds, a pair of wireless earbuds with advanced software functionality. The Pixel Buds include integration with the Google Assistant, and use bone conduction technology to recognize the user’s voice even in loud environments. They also work several rooms away from the device to which they are wirelessly connected, allowing for greater freedom and flexibility, and include audio pass-through features to enable users to remain present in their environment even while listening to music. The Pixel Buds will cost $179, and will launch in Spring 2020.

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Next, Google talked about the importance of sustainability and environmental consciousness in their company’s philosophy. The company stated that they would commit to investing $150 million into renewable energy sources, and spoke about their commitment to incorporate recycled plastic in their products. Google also spoke of its new video game streaming platform, which requires only a controller and a compatible device, cutting back on hardware costs and waste. They introduced the controller they designed for this specific purpose, which was inspired by the versatile design of kitchen knives for professional chefs.

Google then introduced the Pixelbook Go, an affordable laptop, which is available for pre-order and will cost $649. The company quickly moved on to talk about its updates to Google Nest, a smart home system designed to seamlessly incorporate technology into home life. Google stressed its commitment to security and privacy, describing how third-party developers would have to meet certain requirements in order to enable compatibility with Google Nest products. The Google Nest Hub Next acts as a standalone tablet to be placed on top of the kitchen counter, for instance, and allows users to dynamic move content from one display to another within the home. Google described an update to its Google Home Mini, including advanced artificial intelligence processors and the option to mount the device on the wall. They also described Nest Aware, a camera-based surveillance system for the home, and talked about how smoke alarm features would be integrated into their products. The last Google Home product the company discussed was Nest WiFi, a router system for creating mesh networks within the home.

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Google then discussed the Google Pixel 4, the company’s flagship smartphone which has been completely redesigned. The first feature of the phone the company discussed was its built-in radar sensor, which is used for facial recognition and gesture recognition. The company described their efforts in radar technology as a way to introduce natural human body language as a way of interacting with computers, and described how the Google Assistant is more deeply integrated into the phone’s operating system, again emphasizing the company’s commitment to privacy and ensuring users have control over their data. One example of this is the company’s new Recorder app, which automatically records and transcribes audio on the device, even when it’s not connected to the Internet.

Google described the display of the Pixel 4 as “visually indistinguishable from perfect,” and it is the first phone to feature a display with a 90 Hz refresh rate. Additionally, the company claimed the phone’s camera was at the top of its class, and discussed how the company invested into “computational photography,” which is software that improves the visual fidelity of data captured by the image sensor. Computational photography generally involves combining several images into one, reducing noise and expanding the dynamic range of photographs. Computational photography also enables high-resolution digital zoom, and real-time previews of HDR images. Additionally, computational photography allows for more accurate automatic white balancing and approximation of the depth-of-field effect, including bokeh simulation, and improving the detail of night shots, including the ability to capture stars in the night sky. The phone will start shipping on October 24, and will cost $799.

Overall, the range of products announced at this year’s event was somewhat limited, as the updates to the Google Home products seemed fairly minor, with limited appeal. While the Pixel Buds seem impressive, there is strong competition in the wireless earbud market from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Samsung, and the Pixel Buds don’t feature any truly unique capabilities. Google didn’t go into too much detail about its upcoming Pixel 4, but the smartphone was by far the most interesting product described today, as the company promises their new phone will integrate hardware and software features to provide the best Android experience on the market.