Richard Etter designed this cell phone detecting AwareFashion shirt to assist the staff at an opera house. Containing a module that detects activity on a GSM band, it can be used to alert the staff to patrons who have not turned their phone off (and may be in danger of interrupting the proceedings with a cell call).

It appears to be just a concept, however I can see the potential for it being a more polite way to deal with the issue than just blocking all cell reception. This way, the staff is will be able to confront each person individually, which could allow them to make exceptions for people with valid reasons to have a (muted) phone on. Think it could work? [thanks, Val!]

  • rahere

    I work in crisis management at an international level. You cannot possibly expect someone requiring the kind of contactability as, say, Javier Solana, needed until his recent retirement to put his communications in the hands of an otherwise unemployable usher. That is at the extreme level. The same starts running on down the scale, for example, his staff, and then the politicians who guide them, and their staff, until you get to the cleaning-lady, excellent though she undoubtedly was. Where do you draw the line? Who draws the line? What line is to be drawn? How can they screen out the crap calls from seriously-justifiable urgencies?
    Another approach might be to require such users to switch to rumble mode: that way you don’t get La Cucuracha whose tiny hand is frozen. Perhaps we could have some more suggestions as to inappropriate mixes of GSM ringtunes and operatic arias…

    • Brian

      “Where do you draw the line? Who draws the line? What line is to be drawn?”

      I think the line is between “Fur Elise” at 90dB, and “vibrate,” and it’s drawn by whoever operates the venue.

      “Important people” aside, it’s a thoughtful use of technology to enable humans to solve a problem one-on-one with other humans. Sure beats “leave your mobile at the door” policies or frequency jammers.

      • rahere

        I don’t think this detector does sort the problem because, like you say, the problem isn’t the machine, it’s the user: if they’re the sort not to think about turning it off on arrival, then they’re the sort who’ll turn it back on again as soon as the usher’s back is turned. We already see exactly that happening, someone whose phone rings during the performance is someone who’s chosen to ignore the Stage Manager’s request at the start. I see the same on aircraft after landing, despite the crews’ reminder not to switch the things on until in the terminal because it interferes with safety while taxiing, there’s always s fistful who consider their need to tell someone they’ve landed is more important.
        Nor, for that matter, can this machine filter out those set to vibrate. You’re in the middle of a row (only about 5% of seats are on the aisle) and your phone starts to vibrate. What are you going to do, get up to go outside to answer it, causing as much noise as if you’d left it set to ring? Might as well leave it off, but experience shows this can’t be counted on. No, sorry, the answer is a jammer or Faraday cage, that way there’s no question. Unless, that is, we stage something like the after-the-credits out-takes on some films, namely a ceremonial smashing of offending equipment after the show…anyone care to design a Steampunk machine to do the job?

        • Matt Mets

          I’d love to see a show where smashing offending equipment is official policy (as long as everyone is informed ahead of time :-) ).

          The detector is just a (probably imperfect) tool, and can at best just let the ushers know who has phones on. What happens after that is really a social issue, but at least it could put the ushers on a more level playing field.

  • Alan

    I definitely like the hands-on human operated approach better than the “jam them all” approach, not least because the latter violates both the law and common sense. However, I think the best implementation of this would be a direction-finding system with receiving antennas positioned throughout the house. Have it triangulate on the offending signal, and aim a small spotlight at that seat. Then let the “VIP” sitting there decide whether their constant communication is worth that level of shaming.

    Rahere, your objection doesn’t really pass the sniff test. Someone whose constant availability is really crucial should either have staff who can handle it (e.g. by standing outside the theater and going to get the boss if he’s needed), or they shouldn’t be going to the opera.

  • Brick Moon

    How about a Faraday cage, plus an optional, fee-based paging system, in which the phone is left in a secure location outside the cage, with its ring signal connected to the patron via a vibrating pager, such as used in restaurants. The customer would be able to leave and access the phone. Perhaps it would a more suitable solution for those in professions who must respond to urgencies, and who could likely afford a modest fee for such a service.

    Another option would be a Faraday cage along with an “old school” system, in which the venue would receive forwarded emergency calls and page the customer. This might not be as feasible if there are 100 “doctors in the house.”

    Apologies if this sounds too “Rube Goldbergy.” I don’t even have a cell phone, and am not aware of more benign and efficient technical solutions that would produce a similar result — i.e., the guarantee of not hearing “Ode to Joy” in the middle of an aria, without having to deploy a cell phone SWAT team or possibly delaying a liver transplant.

    Am I giving away a 99-cent idea, or has this already been done? Call me, Billy Crystal!