Computer scientists have created an app designed to warn smart phone users of impending collisions.

HonkThe smartphone, the very device responsible for many distracted driving and pedestrian accidents is now being tapped to help prevent accidents. A group of computer scientists at the University of Missouri Kansas City has created an app called Wi-Fi Honk to help warn users who are so engrossed in their cell phones as to be oblivious of the real world that they are about to be involved in an accident.

The app works by harnessing the existing signals that all Wi-Fi enabled smart phones automatically send out as they search for networks to connect to. The app adds extra information to these signals about the phone’s position, speed, and direction of travel. At the same time it is sending out its own signals, the app is also capturing signals from other nearby Wi-Fi Honk users. When the app’s collision prediction algorithm indicates an imminent danger, it will send an alert to both parties.

Unlike a real-life honk that could get drowned out by music in a pedestrian’s headphones, the Wi-Fi “honk” will interrupt the user for a more noticeable alert. The UMKC scientists report that they have tested the system in real life situations and found it capable of warning drivers in plenty of time for them to stop the vehicle, even when traveling at highway speeds.

The beauty of this app is that unlike previous attempts to achieve similar results it requires no special equipment, any phone with GPS navigation capability already has the capacity to generate speed data via an accelerometer and direction data via a gyroscope.

The main drawback, of course, is that both drivers and pedestrians must have the app running on their phone in order to receive the warnings. One wonders if encouraging the use of this app will undo all the efforts that have been made to get drivers to put their cell phones away while driving.

Also, it is unclear how well the app would work in congested cityscapes. How does the app differentiate between a pedestrian who is approaching a crosswalk with the intention to stop versus one who plans to charge ahead into the path of traffic? Would drivers constantly get unnecessary “honks”?

In the end, technology may serve as an aid to improving pedestrian safety but there is no substitute for plain old common sense. Whether you are a pedestrian or a driver, you need to remain aware of your surroundings and ensure you are obeying all traffic laws. That way, in the event of an accident it is unlikely you will be found at fault, and you would be able to seek compensation for any injuries or property damage experienced via a personal injury lawsuit.