Using one of those new-fangled computer tablets while walking along the street can be a dangerous affair.
Just the other day, for example, I saw one self-absorbed individual who collided with another pedestrian while strolling down a pedestrian precinct as he used such a tablet to surf the internet.
It could have been a whole lot worse. He could have walked into something a lot harder, such as a brick wall or a lamp post, and caused some serious injuries to either himself or the infrastructure.
One answer to this problem, of course, is not to use such mobile devices while walking, and concentrate on negotiating the environment instead. But these days, when we all like to be permanently wired into the web, many individuals are unlikely to heed such practical advice.
Recognizing that fact, a team of researchers at the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) have now developed a rather nifty little vision-based system that could be the answer to mobile users' prayers.
Their so-called "CrashAlert" system augments mobile devices such as tablets with a Microsoft Kinect depth camera to provide distance and location visual cues of obstacles on a user's path. The Kinect camera itself is connected to a battery powered laptop computer carried in a backpack via a USB connection. When it receives images from the Kinect, it processes them and sends them off to the tablet via a Bluetooth connection.
In this way, a user can see their surroundings on the tablet while they walk, dodging and slowing down or lifting their head to avoid any potential collisions and related injuries.
Now the cynics amongst my blog followers might consider that hauling around a bulky computer and a Kinect system in a backpack completely defeats the purpose of using a lightweight tablet in the first place. And, of course, they're probably right.
But if such a system was miniaturized and actually fitted to the tablet itself, then it might actually prove to be of some practical use. And I'm sure that such systems will be in the future.
A research paper entitled "Crash Alert: Enhancing Peripheral Alertness for Eyes-Busy Mobile Interaction while Walking," by Manitoba University researchers Juan David Hincapié-Ramos and Pourang Irani is available on the internet here. Just don't read it on a tablet while attempting to negotiate a busy pedestrian precinct.
Editor's note: Interested in reading more about novel uses of the Kinect? Then why not browse through our recent slideshow here.