As cities introduce novel ways to promote pedestrian safety, one app is tackling the millennial habit of texting and walking by alerting people absorbed in their device on upcoming intersections in New York City. “If people are looking at their phones all the time, that’s where we have to create the intervention,” says the app developer, Ekene Ijeoma, in an interview with Next City. While some cities have created their own interventions – New Jersey has suggested fines for ‘distracted walking’, Ausburg has installed lights at pedestrian crossings and Seoul has created warning signs – Look Up, available now on Android, directly interrupts users who are walking with their mobile phones.
A Live Wallpaper app, Look Up can continuously run in the background of any Android device, appearing as two Technicolor eyeballs. Always on, the app draws on New York City intersection data and information gleaned by geo-sensing to vibrate when the user approaches a crossing, choosing to be notified either at every intersection, every third intersection or randomly. Using data from Vision Zero – a multi-national road traffic safety project that aims to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic – the app is also able to rank intersections by how dangerous they are and warn users accordingly. The number of rings in the iris of the on-screen eyeballs and warning vibrations indicate how likely accidents are at that intersection.
While the street safety application of the software is clear, Look Up actually began with different intentions. “For a while I didn’t want to call it an app. I called it a participatory art project. It’s multisite-specific. You have to be walking and moving around the city to experience it,” says Ijeoma, who goes on to explain that Look Up forces people to do just that – not only peel their eyes away from their screens, but “it just prompts you to look up. Whatever happens when you do is up to where you are and who’s around you. The idea is that hopefully by looking up we can start to see, acknowledge and value one another in real life.”