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October 12, 2017

Smart crosswalk uses virtual markings to react to conditions, increase safety

by John_A

Why it matters to you

A smart crosswalk doesn’t just look cool, it also helps modern cities bolster the safety of pedestrians.

Do you remember when Steve Jobs showed off the original iPhone, and made a big deal about its virtual buttons, instead of physical ones, because this meant they could change according to each app’s requirements? An innovative new road design concept created by U.K. design collective Umbrellium is applying that same philosophy to crosswalks. Called the Starling Crossing, it’s an innovative, futuristic concept that uses object tracking and LEDs to adjust virtual markers on the road depending on what is happening at any given moment.

“What we’ve done is created an interactive road surface that can display a pedestrian crossing at any location in a road, any size and orientation — even create colored road markings to serve as guidance or warning to people who might be about to get into a dangerous situation,” Usman Haque, one of the creators involved with the project, told Digital Trends. “It responds dynamically in real time to pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to create the optimum crossing layout and road markings for a given time of day or a given situation.”

For example, should a child run into the road unexpectedly, a large buffer zone could be displayed around them in the smart crosswalk to make their presence and trajectory immediately clear to nearby road users. The  road surface display could also adapt to environmental conditions, such as taking into account wet weather when determining car buffer zones to avoid accidents, or keeping certain polluting vehicles further away from a school crossing. Like a Nest thermostat, the idea is to create a system that’s able to learn patterns over time and then adjust road markings accordingly.

“The design of the pedestrian crossing that we are familiar with hasn’t been updated much since the 1940s,” Haque continued. “But these days we inhabit our cities in very different ways: streets are more busy, [and] we have mobile phones in our hands to distract us. When we hear about road technology, so much of it is about [things like] autonomous vehicles. What we wanted to do is create a pedestrian crossing technology that puts people first, responding to their needs.”

The Starling Crossing was commissioned by the U.K. insurance company Direct Line and the design firm Saatchi & Saatchi. Right now, it’s still a proof-of-concept only, although we’d love to see something like this play a part in tomorrow’s smart cities.

“This was the first full-scale working prototype, so there will be plenty more testing and development needed in a future rollout, but we don’t have any specific dates or locations to share at this time,” Haque said.

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