Category Archives: Apps

MIT Media Lab Developing Cycling App 

This week I was a research participant in an MIT Media Lab project with the Persuasive Urban Mobility team of the The Changing Places Group. A key goal of the research is driving adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors in cities through persuasive environmental and social factors as well as through technologies that make adopting these behaviors easier. One of the key researchers on the team, Agnis Stibe, describes the concept of persuasive cities in depth in his recent TEDx Beacon Street talk. One example of environmental and social persuasion that he uses in his talk involves posting stats about bicycle commuters crossing the Harvard bridge. If you knew that 2,500 bikers crossed the bridge today (instead of staring at the 5 bikers out your window), that might persuade more car commuters to give biking a try. Commuting by bike would then be viewed as a more normal activity and not something that a weird minority engages in.

The project I participated in was about testing a mobile app protype that hopes to turn skittish / reticent cyclists into more confident urban cyclists through a voice-based coaching app. Eager to improve my own cycling and to mix up my kickscooter routine with some bigger wheels, I signed up to test out the prototype. Project team member Matthias Wunsch greeted me outside the Media Lab and handed me a smartphone and some basic Apple headphones. At first, the coach told me to practice rapid braking. Once I had mastered this move, I was ready to start my urban ride on the busy streets of Kendall Square.

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Do Navigation Apps Feed Our Driving Addiction? Not Citymapper

We’re all hooked on navigation apps and can’t remember what life was like without‘em. For the direction challenged, apps that give you turn-by-turn instructions are saviors. Their up-to-date travel time estimates increase the predictability of commutes.  Without a doubt, these apps reduce commuting stress and bring happier commutes. But, while their benefits are significant, they have also made driving easier.

The decision to drive usually makes sense when minimizing commute time is the key goal. But, if your goal is to maximize enjoyment during the trip (whatever that means for you), or minimize travel costs, the fastest option may not be the answer. Maybe you can allot 30 minutes to a trip, so getting there in 15 minutes is not necessarily ideal. Future navigation apps should be able to help commuters optimize their route based on multiple goals, not just travel time.

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