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.


Battling Distracted Crossing

At Georgia Tech, one of the busiest places on campus is Technology Square. Even at nine in the morning, this area is bustling with people, all of whom are on different missions.There are people walking, driving, eating, studying, exercising, talking, and even listening to music. However, where the roads meet at 5th and Spring, all individuals, whether by car or by foot, come together to safely complete one common task: crossing the street. While widely overlooked, it is crucial to the proper functioning of the intersection.

As the name suggests, technology is important in the space. Certain safety features, such as the stoplights and the cross walk lights, rely on it to visually communicate information that facilitates the completion of the task. However, with the increasing dependency on cell phones and other devices that largely utilize visual technology, these safety features are beginning to become less effective. Fortunately, this can be combated through the addition of safety features that rely on vocal cues.

Pedestrians crossing the street at Tech Square.

For the distracted pedestrian or the disabled/blind, the addition of a voice interface would potentially prevent many accidents. Sensors would detect the presence of a person near the intersection, and the voice would alert the user if and when it is safe to cross. This would reduce not only the danger in the intersection but also the anxiety of both pedestrians and drivers. For drivers, a voice interface similar to that of a GPS would provide an additional safety measure when approaching an intersection. The system would utilize the driver’s position, information from the upcoming stop lights, and sensors near the crosswalk to alert the driver about changing lights and potential pedestrians. This information would be transmitted vocally through the radio, allowing the driver to concentrate on the road ahead.

When choosing a voice for both interfaces, similarity attraction is important. This is due to the fact that “people like voices that manifest personalities that are similar to their own”(Nass 41). At the intersection, the pedestrians and drivers have purpose and are determined to reach their destination; thus, it would make sense for the voice to be professional and straightforward, providing only the necessary information. It should have a male voice with a relatively high volume, a slightly deep pitch, medium pitch range, and an average speech rate. These characteristics would ensure that the voice comes across as knowledgeable and trustworthy but not intimidating. This is important because it would eliminate the possibility of the user feeling as if they are being told what to do; thus, a sense of equality between the user and the interface would be established through the voice, which is similar to that of the stereotypical copilot mentioned in Wired For Speech. However, it does differ in that the slower speech rate and higher volume would ensure clear understanding of the instructions given, which is crucial in a chaotic intersection.

In the future, the integration of a voice interface that connects drivers to pedestrians and provides the user with a comfortable experience would increase the safety and efficiency of the intersection at Tech Square.

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