The Voice of an Intersection

The intersection is a complex environment with an interface that uses colors and symbols to communicate either to go or stop; the confusion of these commands could be life threatening. The interface of the intersection would improve if it had a voice aspect.

There are two main users of the intersection and interface, drivers and walker. It is vital that both understand the interface and the commands it gives. Humans are very easily distracted and this could be dangerous if the interface is completely dependent on visual cues.

The improved interface would consist of an additional app that is built into new cars and available for smartphones. This app would be linked to the traffic light interface in real time. This would allow the app to verbally tell the driver lots of information regarding the intersection. It would inform the driver of the command of the traffic lights: “go” or “prepare to stop.”

We observed many of the people walking had headphones in while crossing the intersection. This could be very dangerous because the hearing the different sounds of the intersection are important to safety. For example, we heard the sounds of the car engine idling, the brakes, and the engine revving. With headphones in all this information is lost.  So, the new interface app would interrupt the music and say either “Safe.” or “Not safe to cross.”

The voice itself would match the emotion and mood of the traffic lights having a very calm and steady tone being both neutral and an indication of caution low in intensity. The voice would be a feminine synthetic voice much like Siri. The interface would have these traits so that it is perceived as friendly, intellectual, and non-bothersome.



  • Nina Moorman

    So, the app would be able to notify users in real time as they approach the intersection? How would this app work? It would be permitted to run GPS 24/7 (a drain of battery and potential incentive to uninstall) and it would interrupt whatever else the user is doing (including phone calls, and other important, time sensitive activities)? My other question is when would the alert come up? As they are 1 foot, 10 feet, 1/4 a foot away from the street? What if they move back and forth over that line, for example to make way for a biker or other user? Will the app send the notification again? And again?

    I like your post, but I have a hard time imagining an app that would be effective without becoming annoying.

    • Ethan MacGregor

      Nina, while I appreciate your concern on some of the specifics I think you underrate the enormous utility that this interface would bring. GPS is already on most of the time in many cars, and is barely any problem at all for an enormous car battery and users uninstalling would not be an issue considering the difficulty of uninstalling car apps. Also, the app need not be as intrusive as you might imagine: it could simply be a background app that would state one word commands like “stop” or “go” at the appropriate time. Sure, some phone conversations may be interrupted for a second by the command, but they would still be active and I don’t know if we should really make concessions for what should be a discouraged driving activity anyway. Cars are very smart nowadays and most modern algorithms are flexible and powerful enough that the circumstance concerns (distance, etc.) you outline will probably not be as worrisome as you imagine. As I’ve said, I appreciate your concerns, but I think this idea is actually really good and given proper foresight I think it would be an excellent tool for the modern driver.

    • Sydney Ortega

      Nina: Upon first reading the blog post, I shared your concerns about the intrusiveness of having an app be automatically enabled. However, I have to agree with Ethan’s points. The safety of drivers and pedestrians far outweighs the potential annoyance of the interruption of the app. I’m not sure if either of you are familiar with the Waze Driving app, but it has a similar function. It warns drivers of upcoming hazards, like debris in the road or a stopped car on the shoulder of the road. While using this app, I initially found it slightly irritating to have my music interrupted, but I’ve found that it’s comforting to know that I will be warned of hazards before I encounter them. The app Graeme proposed would likely have similar effects.

      • Anum Ul-Haque

        Sydney, I find it very interesting that there is already an app to let pedestrians know that about their surroundings. But I am surprised that it has not gained ground and is not a well-known app. If it contains the capabilities of assisting pedestrians and making sure that pedestrians can safely walk across an intersection, then it should be more widely known. It’s true that if the app were cutting off music periodically to alert the walker, it would be annoying. But I agree with Ethan in that the safety of the people, both in cars and on the sidewalks, are far more important than listening to music with headphones in, which limits the alertness of the people listening with headphones. I believe Graeme’s idea is a very good one, and this app should become more widely known to limit the number of causalities that occur as a result of poor alertness on the streets.

  • Nupur Mathur

    Graeme, while I do greatly appreciate the intention of this interface and its design, I feel that it could be improved upon. It may be useful with regards to safety for both drivers and pedestrians, but I think an aspect of navigation would add another dimension as well. The system should be able to be commanded with simple phrases so a focused driver doesn’t have to plug in an address but can instead simply remark,, “take me to chipotle.” Then while still reminding the driver of when to slow down and such, the interface can also be directing for turns or even when a safe time to switch lanes is.

    • Min Jung

      I think you have a good point for bring up to both pedestrians and drivers. The interface would be much more improved by combining the concept between drivers and pedestrians. For example, the app will alert bus driver in real time about that disable person in need is waiting at next stop. Then, it will affect the better lives and accessibility of blind people.

  • Jake Burgholzer

    An app is a very common solution in modern day society, but it also has a lot of drawbacks. The app you are proposing relies on a variety of things that when added together are extremely unlikely to happen. First, all cars must have the app and have their GPS systems running. Furthermore, you have to build infrastructure into every existing intersection in the country for this to be a ubiquitous system (for which it must be to have any positive effect). In addition, every person walking on the street must have a smartphone and must have the app (which would require location services to be on and would waste the battery). You also proposed a female voice, like Siri, but people all have different preferences on voices. I like the idea, but it follows a mainstream solution pattern and in this case does not have a good chance of success in real application.

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