The Rush Hour Tango

Intersections are not merely crossing points between streets; they are hubs of activity and nodes within communities where interactions and routines take place. Ideally, drivers and pedestrians would cross paths in an organized and timely fashion, like an intricate dance. However, impatience and human error often lead to one party stepping out of turn. Drivers are legally allowed to turn right through red lights, and pedestrians sprint across the street at any chance they get, regardless of the walk signal. Busy intersections like 5th and Spring St need an interface that can increase safety and awareness for people both on the road and on the sidewalk.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 65,000 pedestrians are injured by moving vehicles in a given year. In 2014, almost 5,000 of those injuries resulted in deaths. From a pedestrian’s perspective, crossing should be straightforward if you follow the visual walk signals. Additionally, the sounds of loud trucks, buses, and cars speeding down the street act as an indicator of when to or not to cross. For someone who is visually impaired or easily distracted, on the other hand, a direct and alert auditory signal might be a beneficial instruction. Many crosswalks are now implementing buttons that speak to users when pushed, emitting a forceful yet poor sound quality “wait!” or “crossing!” I would improve this interface by making the voice more clear and neutral, as the signal should be neither alarming nor calming; its purpose is to relay information, not an emotion.

From the driver’s perspective, sitting at a traffic light certainly is not an enjoyable experience. Although many states have laws protecting pedestrians in crosswalks, drivers attempt to make quick turns or speed across intersections without paying attention to the people around them. Distractions from phones, radios, and activity outside the vehicle all take away from the task at hand. I would improve driver awareness by including a signal in the intersection interface that is emitted to vehicle radios or possibly cellphones that alert a driver when pedestrians are crossing. Such a voice would need to be neutral, as Clifford Nass and Scott Brave state that “the same voice cannot be effective for all drivers.” It would be difficult for an outside interface to detect a user’s emotion from within the vehicle, so neutrality is key to appealing to the masses.

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.


The Shores of Georgia Tech

Satechtrolleyying that the intersection of 5th and Spring Street is not the business intersection on campus is an understatement. Here you can witness business men and women, students, street vendors, pedestrians, and drivers interact with each other as Atlanta slowly starts creeping onto Georgia Tech’s campus. Though each of these people are different they all have one thing in common, getting to their destination safely.

Every couple of seconds the corners of the intersection start to refill, all while waiting for the light to change and see that little white walking symbol appear. People continue to cross the street as the traffic light fades to yellow and the time left to cross the street diminishes. Drivers begin to grow impatient with pedestrians when they cannot turn because they are still crossing the street.

This intersection will always be hectic however, the space could benefit from the use of a sound-directed interface to direct the pedestrians and motorists. With the instillation of an interface in this area, traffic would stop for 20 seconds so that pedestrians can complete their tasks separately, without interference from motorists. Along with the new cross walk signal, while counting down the numbers a beep should occur shortly afterwards.

As discussed in the book Wired for Speech, the voice of this interface should be low in pitch to suggest competence (page 42), slow to suggest the user should take their time (page 34), and the beep should be monotone and staccato to give time in between the counting down of numbers.

This interface will benefit pedestrians by eliminating the dangers of interacting with cars while crossing the street due to the extended period of time they have to complete their task. In addition, it will benefit motorists in that the cross walk system will eliminate pedestrians in the walkways, so that they can complete their tasks without interference from non-motorists. Disabled people could also benefit from the addition of the interface, for example if a blind person were to cross the street, they would know exactly the amount of time they have to do so because the interface counts-down the time remaining.  The interface makes the tasks being accomplished in this space safer for pedestrians and motorists.

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