ITEM: A new AI-powered app called Speedcam Anywhere crowdsources everyone on the road to identify and report speeders – and no one likes it, not even Google and Apple.
Speedcam Anywhere was developed by a team of AI scientists with pedigrees in Silicon Valley companies and UK universities with the idea of enabling drivers to use their smartphones to easily document evidence of speeding or dangerous driving.
According to The Guardian, a Speedcam Anywhere user opens the app when they hear a speeding car about to flash by them. The app scans the license plate and runs it through a public car registration database to determine the make and model of the car. Then it calculates the speed by comparing the distance between the axles of the car to the footage. The user can save the video and use it to generate a report that can be forwarded to the police.
The developers say they want to help make roads safer – and there’s little doubt that traffic accidents remain a serious problem globally. According to WHO, 1.3 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes, most of them in low- and middle-income countries. In Southeast Asia, traffic accidents are currently cited as the single largest cause of death – with motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians being the most at risk – and a decent chunk of them are caused by speeding.
So the developers of Speedcam Anywhere have their hearts in the right place. Just one problem: people hate it so much that the developers have remained anonymous because they’ve been getting death threats over it, the Guardian reports:
“We’re getting quite abusive emails,” said Sam, the app’s founder, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s a Marmite product – some people think it’s a good idea, some people think that it turns us into a surveillance state.
Many comments blasted Speedcam Anywhere for essentially encouraging a panopticon state where everyone is encouraged to snitch on each other. Which is a legitimate concern – apps do enough spying on us without encouraging us to do it on their behalf, although enforcing traffic safety sounds more noble than feeding marketers with data to sell us stuff.
But Speedcam Anywhere is a classic case of a technological solution that doesn’t understand the context of the problem.
Most drivers exceed the speed limit at some point, either by necessity or they’re distracted, or they just don’t care, or they fancy themselves safe drivers at any speed. Anecdotally, I can tell you from years of personal experience that if you stick to the speed limit on any US Interstate highway, you will be one of the slowest cars on the road.
This is also why most drivers go out of their way to watch for speed traps. Pro tip: apps like Google Drive will tell you where they are, which in itself may be a less intrusive way to get drivers to slow down at least some of the time.
In any case, Speedcam Anywhere has other factors working against it. Apple and Google refuses to allow it on their respective app stores. Apple hasn’t given a reason yet, but Google says it doesn’t believe the app is capable of accurately measuring the speed of a passing car. Even if they approve it, Speedcam Anywhere has to be approved by authorities as an acceptable source of admissible evidence. Without that, any report that the app generates won’t be usable in a court hearing.
For me, the dodgiest part of the Speedcam Anywhere app apart from the surveillance aspect is that you presumably have to film the speeding car while you’re driving. Which I guess works if you use your phone as a dashcam. And perhaps passengers could be on speed-trap duty. Otherwise, it sounds like an accident waiting to happen.
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