Understanding where you should not be walking
Microsoft recently secured a patent on a "Pedestrian route production" tool. VentureBeat
The idea is simple. The walking navigation tool will direct you around areas you wouldn't want to walk. These could be areas that are unsafe because they have high crime rates or they could be areas that simply lack proper pedestrian facilities. The concept, especially as it relates to pedestrian accommodations, could prove to be very useful. More and more I am starting to use the "walking" navigation option built into my Google Maps. Sometimes it is just easier to glance down from time to time and see myself creeping along that blue line than to try to memorize street names and routes. However, if you walk as much as I do, you have no doubt, at some point, found yourself walking down a sidewalk that you wished hadn't been on your route --for one reason or another.
I am, in fact, a little sad that this patent went to Microsoft. I think it might prove to be valuable as a navigation tool, but I actually see more value in the concept as a community/neighborhood tool. Imagine being able to see pedestrian trouble spots. If Bing doesn't think that the adjoining avenue to your neighborhood would make for a pleasant walk, then you could arm yourself with this new information and seek to correct the problems. Homeowner associations could quickly see where they need to focus next year's big dig project.
Of course, you don't need a computer to tell you the obvious. If you lack a sidewalk, well, you need one. Which is why I wish this patent went to a company like Walk Score. Walk Score is a company that provides millions of people with basic data about neighborhood walkability. Specifically it provides an address with a Walk Score, or a rating of how walkable that particular area is. For example, a place with a high walk score will likely have plenty of places to eat, shop, recreate, and get healthcare nearby and ideally, all without having to jump in a car. Lower-scored areas generally are lacking at least some of these basic amenities. I wish Walk Score had this patent because I think that this kind of walking route logic will be most valuable to citizens and neighborhoods when viewed holistically with other neighborhood information --like a Walk Score. I also want the data to be publicly available and I have my doubts that Microsoft will open up all of this data.
Most importantly, if Microsoft turns this into a feature on Bing Maps, my hope is that pedestrians will not only get value out of it but that community leadership will use it as a tool for finding and addressing problem areas. Let's make sure we use technology to help us address the problems and not simply go around them.