What are the best new products that people don’t know about?

by on August 1, 2013 at 5:43 am in Economics | Permalink

From Quora, you will find a good list, with photos, here.  I like “Traffic Signal with Hour glass timer.”

trafficsignal

What percent of the products listed are net social positives?

For the pointer I thank the excellent @elrob.

Alex O'Connor August 1, 2013 at 6:02 am

Countdown timers seem to have had mixed (at best) success in pedestrian crossings, since they seem to encourage rushing and people trying to scrape through.

http://cycleoffutility.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/pedestrian-countdown-tfl-report-shows-it-endangers-pedestrians-suggests-city-wide-roll-out/

dan1111 August 1, 2013 at 7:12 am

I believe similar “progress bar” traffic lights are used for cars in China. Not sure of the effect there.

In Britain a yellow stage when turning from red to green is standard. It doesn’t appear to add any benefit, because yellow simply becomes the new green.

Doug M August 1, 2013 at 6:54 pm

With the yellow-before-green, as used in London, I see motorists rev-up when they get yellow, so they can get a jump on the green light. Everyone drives like they are at the race track. But, with a red-straight-to-green, they accelerate more modestly.

Regarding the countdown timers for pedestrians crosswalks, I use those when I am driving. If I hit the intersection at 1 second to the next light, I will hit the gas on the theory that they are synched, and if I go faster I will stay ahead of the yellow lights. Sometimes, I will use it in reverse… if I can see the crosswalk is at 3 seconds, and I am still a half a block a way, I will start slowing for the intersection.

Oldie August 1, 2013 at 8:06 pm

When I was learning to drive, in England around 1970, I was told that the yellow before green meant “get into gear”. Cars were nearly all manual transmission then.

Tom West August 1, 2013 at 7:37 am

Alex, I think the report you quote indicates that because pedestrians know how long they have to cross, it’s feasible to decrease the pedestrian signal without loss of safety, and London has indeed done so.

(1) Most of North America that I’m aware of people cross with traffic, so there’s no shortening the signal for pedestrians only.
(2) While the author considers this an evil (and I’m generally pro-pedestrian), if pedestrians aren’t feeling rushed and safety is not decreased, then perhaps decreasing congestion isn’t a terrible thing. It will mean more pedestrians waiting at lights, though.
(3) Personally I find these counters (they’re all over Toronto) absolutely necessary as we have more and more elderly pedestrians. Otherwise on wide streets we need a 30 second yellow, which encourages driving through yellows on those intersections. Also, as a driver, if I see the counter, it allows me to anticipate not making the green and slow down rather make a sharper break for yellow.

mulp August 1, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Two solutions are obvious once you realize how people react to green in the real world – they drive without looking.

I have a vivid memory of going home from work very late one night and just as I crested an overpass and saw the light a quarter mile away turn red for the the car waiting to cross, I was passed by a sports car traveling at a very high speed. I watched the driver start into the intersection even as the speeding car bore down on the intersection. And I saw two people die as the sports car sheared off the crossing car just in front of the steering wheel.

That was in the 70s when sensors did not exist to detect this kind of care motion, but today motion detection imagers are well developed, so delaying green until well after the red, and then extending the red if vehicles are going to violate the red.

And I have realized on a number of cases that when I’m thinking of something like work when waiting for green, a light changing has triggered the “drive on green” reaction, especially in places where the heavy traffic results in honks if you fail to jack rabbit on green within 100 milliseconds.

Unless the countdown to green does not begin until after the red has been given to crossing traffic, it would ensure drivers crash into red light violators. Which is a costly way to enforce traffic laws.

Eric S. August 1, 2013 at 8:25 am

We have them all over Chicago. As a motorist, pedestrian, and cyclist I find them wonderful because of the predictability they provide. Who cares if people are rushing and scraping when you’ve got the timing down?

RPLong August 1, 2013 at 9:04 am

+1

This seems like an awful idea to me.

Pete M August 1, 2013 at 6:10 am

Also, colour blind people will not be able to discern the colour change, making this infeasible.

PK August 1, 2013 at 10:03 am

I thought this immediately – it would be better if the symbol changed to represent red/yellow/green.

Dan August 1, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Green traffic lights often have blue added to distinguish the colors for people who are red/green colorblind.

AC August 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I’m red-green colorblind and you’re right that green lights often have some blue in them to make them look different, but often they do not and I can’t tell the red and green lights apart. I very much rely on top/bottom rather than red/green. Areas where traffic lights tend to be sideways (Miami is where I remember this being an issue) have sometimes caused me some difficulty. I’d have a very hard time with these lights.

JWatts August 1, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Yes, it’s a major miss to ignore the color blind issue. Red/green is the most prevalent form of being color blind and it’s astonishing that someone would design a traffic light without making a distinct modification to the symbols.

Basic graphic design rules require differences in both color and symbology.

Silas Barta August 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I said as much at the time (and criticized most of the other things on that list as well):

[traffic signal hourglass]:Wrong, wrong, wrong. Traffic signals must exhibit a left/right or top/down asymmetry for the red-green color-blind. To them, the stop/wait looks just like go/hurry up. This is solved in standard lights by having the top/left light mean “stop” regardless of color, and the lower/right one mean “go”. I suppose you could have one of the two “drain up” to indicate which it is, but that would be hard to discern at a glance.

Andrew' August 1, 2013 at 6:28 am

What happened to the red light strobes?

dan1111 August 1, 2013 at 7:13 am

I was amused by the alarm clock that shreds a $100 bill if you don’t get up.

j r August 1, 2013 at 1:08 pm

It’s an interesting concept, makes me wonder how many people it can help.

I keep my alarm away from my bed and I have no problem getting up to turn it off. Unfortunately, most of the time I just get right back in bed.

I need something that will shred a hundred dollar bill at the gym if I don’t show up.

msgkings August 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm

They have that…it’s called a monthly membership fee

alex b August 1, 2013 at 7:29 am

Georgia (republic of) has been using them for a few years now, too. Seeing as the previous status quo was completely ignoring any traffic regulations, probably not the best place to measure any effect compared to ‘no count down

Andrew' August 1, 2013 at 8:18 am

And then Microsoft got the contract and the hourglass just started spinning indefinitely.

Eric S. August 1, 2013 at 8:26 am

Awful

Rahul August 1, 2013 at 10:00 am

“Advisory: Motorists are advised to treat a blue screen as a four way stop sign”

George Doehner August 1, 2013 at 8:54 am

What’s with the intrusive registration process to read the article? Pay walls make sense, but jerk walls just mean fewer readers.

yep August 1, 2013 at 10:20 am

+1…..This caused me to skip the article

Enrique August 1, 2013 at 11:21 am

Ditto

Andrew M August 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Same here too. I’m not prepared to trade my real name, email address, date of birth, photo, gender, friend list, custom friend lists, and likes; just to read an article. It’s not at all clear why they even want this information.

In the past websites were grateful for your anonymous readership; seems that now they charge whatever they think they can get away with. If this is the new price of entertainment, then I’ll seek a lower-cost supplier.

Justin August 1, 2013 at 10:28 am

I think the “improved” backpack/carrier is actually a step backwards, if it is oriented towards rural laborers. Carrying on the head is actually the superior method, and a few savvy backpackers have switched to using head straps to carry most of the load of their backpacks (you have to ease into this). You can have fun googling “tumpline”.

Sanjay August 1, 2013 at 10:31 am

We just stayed in a hotel that had an automated pancake maker — somewhere inside it there’s an exchangeable bag of batter, and when you push a button, two (predicatbly not so good) pancakes roll out on a conveyor. Truly the “great stagnation” is a myth.

Gordon Mohr August 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Hey! This same link (and call-out to the traffic-light hourglass of dubious safety) was also a post last November: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/11/what-are-the-best-new-products-that-people-dont-know-about.html

Of course there have been *new* new product additions among the Quora answers since then, so it’s still interesting to check back on.

But for perspective, have any cured their “people don’t know about them” problem in the last 9 months?

The Other Jim August 2, 2013 at 2:13 pm

On the great list of Things The World Needs More Of, you will find “ways to distract the motorist from the road” way down at the very bottom along with “sexually transmitted diseases” and “citations of Paul Krugman.”

Red/Yellow/Green is all we want, thank you.

Vernunft August 3, 2013 at 4:38 am

Fitting that the idea is a terrible one that doesn’t work. Tyler, everyone!

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