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 Bus Uncertainty Principle

Too many times have I given up on waiting for a bus at tech square only to have one arrive shortly after I’ve left the stop. Sure, there is an app that shows where buses are, but sometimes it fails to update or a bus won’t show up on the route. The area could definitely benefit from a vocal interface to announce the ETA of a nearby bus or warn you if it’s going to be a while.

There are three bus stops near the 5th and Spring intersection which makes it an ideal place for bus travel. However, if I’ve learned anything about getting around at Georgia Tech, it’s that buses are unreliable. Especially when they are trying to navigate through the traffic of Tech Square and the Marta stop. Currently people will gather in a medium sized crowd and just wait for up to five minutes for a bus to arrive at the stop. Then sometimes the bus will already be full of passengers, which means waiting for the next bus. This is very inefficient, and causes the sidewalk to get crowded near the stops.

A simple announcement of when the next bus will arrive would save everyone the hassle of waiting by the bus stop for an indefinite amount of time until an available bus pulls up. Instead they could go sit down in a nearby seating area to keep the sidewalks clear or engage in activity they know they will have time for. This would need to be a speech directed interface to be able to provide accurate information about bus ETAs, though a jingle could be used to announce a buses arrival. The voice needs to be clear and understandable with a fairly neutral tone. Many trains use announcers with these vocal characteristics to warn about the doors closing or to provide information on upcoming stops. A Siri-like voice would work well for the task. I believe this interface,while not absolutely crucial, would be helpful with minimizing the amount of time people waste standing and waiting for buses to arrive.

This is an example of what this interface could sound like (though the voice could use some work)

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