4 Comments »Posted on Sunday 19 July 2009 at 9:47 am by Jacob Aron
In Biology, Health & Medicine, Inventions & Technology, Mathematics, Weekly Roundup

Travelating in slow motion

The moving walkways used in airports actually slow you down, according to scientists in America. Research has found that people reduce their speed when stepping on to a travelator, making the human conveyor belts only marginally faster than walking. This is only true on an empty walkway however, as any congestion will drop your speed to less than a normal walking pace.

Manoj Srinivasan of Princeton University created a mathematical model to investigate the problem. Publishing in the journal Chaos, he found that the conflict between what your eyes see and your legs feel is responsible for the reduction in speed.

Visual cues tell the brain you are travelling faster than your legs are walking, so in order to conserve energy you slow down. This means that using an empty travelator will only save you about 11 seconds for every 100-metre stretch, compared to walking on regular ground.

But as any regular fliers know, airport travelators are rarely empty. Another study by Seth Young of Ohio State University found that delays due to other travellers getting in the way occur so often that you are better off avoiding the walkway all together. “Moving walkways are the only form of transportation that actually slow people down,” said Young, speaking to New Scientist.

Wii-ly good for you

Active video games like Wii Sports can be a good alternative to moderate exercise for children, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

While not a replacement for more intensive sporting activities, scientists at the University of Oklahoma found they were comparably to a moderate walk. Children aged 10-13 were monitored as they watched television, played the Wii and walked on a treadmill. Both gaming and walking increased the number of calories burned by two to three times. As such, the researchers suggest encouraging kids to play active games instead of more passive ones.

Facebook for scientists

UK researchers have created myExperiment, a social networking site for scientists. Intended to challenge traditional models of academic publishing, it allows scientists to share “Research Objects”.

Rather than just publishing a paper, myExperiment lets users share data, files, and other information required to understand and reuse research. The site also allows the usual social networking interactions, such as messaging and groups.


  1. 4 Comments

  2. You might slow down on a moving walkway if you’re not really thinking about how you walk. The visual feedback is pretty easy to override by deliberately walking at a fast pace. It’s ironic (and very annoying) that they’re nearly always clogged up by people standing still, when the whole reason that they exist is to move passengers along more quickly. I think people should be herded along the walkway by airport security with rottweilers.

    By Sam Wong on Sunday 19 July, 2009 at 12:49 pm

  3. i can’t agree with Sam that travelators are only for going faster. What about people who want or need to save effort compared to walking? That would be ok, surely, IF people were better about not blocking it – Stand On The Right, or whatever??

    By Vogel von Neustadt on Thursday 23 July, 2009 at 11:53 am

  4. Perhaps the answer is to have two parallel walkways, one for people to want to stand still and one for people who want to walk.

    By Sam Wong on Thursday 23 July, 2009 at 12:54 pm

  5. ah well . . . Travelling recently through Toronto airport I was impressed (among other things) by their flashy new high-speed travelators. These really do go like the clappers and you’re left in no doubt that you’re outpacing both the older machine alongside and the Version 1.0 pedestrians beyond that. It is rather cool and fun, impressive but not perfect – I’ve been meaning to write about it on my blog so maybe I’ll get round to it now! But it would certainly go some of the way (aha) to answering some of these points.

    By Vogel von Neustadt on Thursday 23 July, 2009 at 7:43 pm

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