‘Human Uber’ Lets a Surrogate Socialize For You

Has the process of interacting with other human beings become too much for you, but you don’t have the heart to ditch your social obligations completely? Then you’ll be very interested in what virtual reality researcher Jun Rekimoto showed off at MIT Tech Review’s EmTech conference in Asia this week.

Called the “ChameleonMask,” this apparatus allows you to be a member of the outside world in spirit, all from the comfort of the couch you decided was more important than society. Basically, this telepresence helmet allows for a FaceTime-like experience that is piloted by a surrogate body. This surrogate shows up to whatever function you wish to skip, wearing headgear with a screen strapped to the front that livestreams a remote user so they can interact with the world around them.

There is a public line of communication in the helmet that allows the remote user to speak to the room through a voice channel, and a private one, where only the surrogate can hear the user (the surrogate can still be heard by everyone physically around them, so the team behind the device suggests they speak at a lower volume). There are also written commands the user can send to the surrogate that will pop up on the screen from which the surrogate views the world.

When conducting experiments with the device in 2015, an iPhone 6 was placed in a Hacosco VR helmet so the surrogate could use the smartphone’s camera function to see the real world around them. The main screen featuring the remote user's face is attached to the front of the helmet with the iPhone behind it, placed in such a way that the camera isn’t obstructed. There is also a feed of the remote user that the surrogate can see in the corner of their screen, as seen in this video.

According to the team’s study, the choice to use a surrogate human body instead of just an autonomous robot with a screen attached was because “Humans inherently have crisis-control capacities and five highly developed senses. If the remote user can find a surrogate who looks like him or her, the impression of his or her appearance can be maintained.” Basically, the more your surrogate looks like you, the more seamless the illusion of it actually being you will become.

Jun Rekimoto—the deputy director of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.—says the whole process feels “surprisingly natural,” and his team conducted studies to see just how comfortable people would be around these surrogates. The results were much more positive than anyone had imagined.

While they believed the participants would “look at it in disbelief, and immediately request the surrogate to remove it,” they found that people “seemed to believe that the remote user was in front of them” and that they were having a conversation with the person on the screen, not the body standing in for them.

There’s no commercial model of the ChameleonMask available yet, so for now you’ll have to brave your niece’s dance recital in the flesh. But in the not too distant future, a lucky surrogate can become the social butterfly you were never meant to be.

[h/t Select/All]

10 Simple Tricks for Charging Your Smartphone Faster

Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images
Makidotvn, iStock via Getty Images

Smartphones always seem to reach low power at the least convenient moments possible. If you've ever urged your device to charge faster in the minutes before a phone interview or when you're about to board a plane, you can relate. While the easiest way to avoid this scenario is to plug in your device before the battery dips into the danger zone, if you've already reached this point, there are simple ways to speed up the charging process.

Some hacks for charging a phone faster involve steps you can take in anticipation of the next time you're surviving on minimum energy. Certain gadgets, like special chargers and battery packs, will power-up your device more efficiently than others. For moments when your phone is dying and all you have is your regular charging cable, adjusting your phone's settings to minimize the power it consumes also works in a pinch.

You can find some specific ways to charge your phone quickly below: 

  1. Plug it into a wall outlet instead of a USB port.
  1. Use a portable battery pack.
  1. Buy a special "fast" phone charger.
  1. Switch to low power mode.
  1. Switch to airplane mode.
  1. Let your phone drain completely on its own once a month to the extend the battery life.
  1. Close any background apps.
  1. Stop automatic app updates.
  1. Don't check your phone while it's charging
  1. Keep your phone out of the heat.

For more tricks for making your phone usage more efficient, check out these tips for typing faster.

Does Pushing the Button at a Crosswalk Actually Do Anything?

Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
Pressing this crosswalk button may or may not do something.
David Tran/iStock via Getty Images

Since crosswalk signals rarely seem to give you the green light (or more accurately, the white, human-shaped light) right after you press the button, you may find yourself wondering if those buttons actually work. The potentially exasperating answer is this: It depends.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that crosswalk buttons aren’t designed to have an immediate effect; they’re just supposed to tell the system that a person is waiting to cross. As CityLab explained, some systems won’t ever give pedestrians the crossing signal unless someone has pressed the button, while others are programmed to shorten the wait time for walkers when the button has been pressed. No matter what, the system still has to cycle through its other phases to give cars enough time to pass through the intersection, so you’ll probably still have to stand there for a moment.

During busy traffic times or under other extenuating circumstances, however, cities can switch the system to what’s known as “recall mode,” when pedestrian crossings are part of the cycle already and pressing the button quite literally changes nothing. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if a particular button is in recall mode, short of calling your city officials and asking an expert to come inspect it.

But if you feel like a button isn’t doing anything, there’s a pretty good chance it’s been permanently deactivated. As congestion has increased and the systems to manage it have become more advanced over the years, cities have moved away from using crosswalk buttons at all. In 2018, for example, CNN reported that only around 100 of New York City’s 1000 buttons were still functioning. Since actually removing the buttons from crosswalks would be a costly endeavor, cities have opted to leave them intact, just waiting to be pummeled by impatient pedestrians who don’t know any better.

What about 'close door' buttons on elevators, you ask? That depends, too.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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