Intersection Interaction: An Alternative Augmentation?

As I observed the sorts of interactions that took place within the 5th St./Spring St. intersection, I clearly saw that crossing the intersection was the main objective of the space.  From walking to riding and driving, distracted or alert, law-abiding or not, many sorts of users crossed through the intersection.  For drivers, there are big, clearly visible lights hung at the top of the intersection to indicate what to do, making that signaling very clear.  However, for pedestrians, the signage can sometimes be less clear.  The crosswalk light is smaller than traffic lights, and mounted around head level so that in a crowd it would be more difficult to see.  Additionally, the space doesn’t take advantage of using any auditory cues for the intersection, which I believe would make the interface much more versatile and accessible.

As I observed pedestrians crossing the intersection, I began to notice a few trends.  First, many users were multitasking, whether looking at their phone screens or listening to some sort of audio through headphones or earbuds.  Many waited for the crosswalk light to change in order to walk, but some watched and walked according to traffic, while others waited until the people in front of them started moving.  An interface through sound might help to unify the experience for pedestrians in the interface.  A distinct audio cue might grab someone’s attention while listening or looking at something else, and for people with visual impairments an auditory indication would be a great help.

A few different aspects would have to be taken into account to successfully integrate an audio system into the intersection.  First, the voice would have to be carefully tailored to be distinct in pitch and tone to all the other possible sounds in the intersection in order to be intelligible.  In addition, as mentioned in Chapter 4 of Wired For Speech, the voice’s personality would have to be designed in such a way as to be most accepted generally, since many different users in different emotional states pass through the space daily.  In order to maintain some amount of isolation of the sound to the pedestrians aiming to cross the intersection, a system using “speakers” like these would be effective:


  • Samuel Shapiro

    I like this idea a lot, but I agree that there are multiple factors that could hinder the audio system’s implementation. While using speakers with a distinct tone and sound could impact and help pedestrians who are distracted visually, those who are listening to their own audio as they cross the street would not be able to hear it. Unless the directional speakers were able to be heard over the sound of one’s own headphones or emitted at some specific frequency that might have an impact other than any regular street noise, this method (though a great concept and a very cool idea) might not be universally effective.

  • Kelsie Anderson

    While watching the HyperSound Glass clip, I was in disbelief that nobody was messing with the volume. It is incredible to see the directional speakers in action. Tech Square can definitely be overstimulating with the amount of pedestrians, drivers and activities going on. Observing that most of the people are distracted by their phones, it is easy to conclude that they may miss their cues to cross or worse, not to cross. Initially, I believed that a directional sound interface would get lost in the midst of braking cars, chatter, etc., however, after watching the clip, it persuaded me a little bit. I think innovating the interface is a difficult task, but I agree the directional based sound would be practical and significant in the new design. Great Job!

    -Kelsie R. Anderson

  • Anushk Mittal

    Your alternative augmentation to the current interface is commendable. The idea of using ‘Directional Speakers’ is potentially of high utility for the users. Further, I agree that using a high pitch sound to alert pedestrians on signal change is a great addition that no only increases the crosswalks accessibility for blind people but also allows to quickly grab attention from the myriad multitasking activities happening at the intersection. However, adding low pitch, low intensity soothing music would also be a great asset to calm pedestrians as they wait for the signal change.

  • Marcus Wilder

    I do like the idea of directional-based sound. However, I think a vibration plate beneath the sidewalk would be more effective at alerting pedestrians. While looking at a phone screen will not inhibit the HyperSound Glass, noise-cancelling headphones will. On the other hand, no object commonly seen on a pedestrian will inhibit vibrations at one’s feet. The irregularity of experiencing said pulsations would also garner more attention than an auditory sound as humans practice cancelling out external noise everyday. To add, the amplitude of the waves emitted by the plate could be adjusted randomly to prevent sensitization to the vibrations.

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