Walk Any Way: London’s Changing, Digital LED Crosswalk Might Save Lives ""

By | October 20, 2017

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Picture all the jumbotrons on skyscrapers and sports arenas laid flat on the street, displaying images that could save your life. One British industrial design firm has such a radical concept that could make crosswalks safer.

In yet another vision of connected vehicles and smart roads, Umbrellium has installed an interactive surface full of several hundred LED panels over a small street in South London. But what could have been a disco-inspired, motion-sensing dance floor is a total rethink of the painted zebra crossing that has dotted paved urban areas for decades. Instead of a static, fixed crosswalk, Umbrellium’s Starling Crossing lets pedestrians choose where they want to cross and can widen, narrow, or change the entire shape of the walkway when needed. If most people like crossing diagonally, then the crosswalk “learns” and goes with the flow. (The term “Starling” stands for Strategic Adaptive Responsive Learning crosswalk.)

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The zebra lines come into view only when someone is waiting, while curb lines change from red to green when it’s safe to cross. An illuminated buffer zone can visually trace a more erratic person, such as a child, or flash warnings at inattentive adults absorbed in their smartphones. If someone runs out suddenly, the crosswalk might turn red. Cyclists have their own stop-and-go points, and if large vehicles obscure the roadway, the crosswalk can alert traffic if more people are in the road. Software attempts to predict what people, cyclists, and drivers will do as two cameras track everyone’s movement in real time. The surface itself is a heavy-duty, slip-resistant plastic with lighting patterns that can be seen at all angles at any time of day.


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“Crossing designs have not been updated for the ways that we use, or need to use, our streets in the 21st century,” said Umbrellium. “Key design principles include aiming to enhance people’s perceptual awareness without distracting them, and highlighting safety relationships between people and cars so they can make their own decisions, rather than telling them what to do.”

In the United States, the latest statistics show an alarming 11 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities in 2016, meaning they’re disproportionately represented in the rising overall death toll that grew by 5.6 percent. Smarter crosswalks might be one means of addressing the problem. So long as advertisers stay out—hey, a Starbucks is 100 feet this way!—and the animations stay simplified, a digital display might get more attention from a populace fascinated by the ones in their cars and their hands.

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