Tech’s Talking Technology in Crosswalks

Drivers and pedestrians are two major forces that share the bustling Tech Square intersection in their busy commutes. As drivers devote their full attention to changing factors in their environment down the road, pedestrians walk along the sidewalk while intently focused on looking at their phones rather than where they’re going, and their paths inevitably overlap at the crosswalk. As such, an interface located at crosswalk signs that communicates vocal signals would greatly benefit both commuting parties by providing audible guidance to these visually distracted users.

This system would alert pedestrians by repeatedly vocalizing the term “Walk” when it is safe to cross the road and counting down the remaining time left to cross. A firm “Stop” would be issued afterwards and followed by silence to indicate that it is not appropriate to cross the road. The interface’s voice should command a certain level of authority to emphasize the stern nature of obeying traffic laws but should also possess an encouraging and warm aspect to its personality in consideration of the nervous emotions that pedestrians often feel when crossing a busy street. Thus, a higher pitched female voice with consistent pitch range and moderate speech rate would characterize the interface’s slightly introverted personality and successfully facilitate a steady and calming environment very much needed by anxious pedestrians in busy intersections.  The higher pitch would also make the speech more easily discernible amidst often lower pitched traffic noises. Volume is the only aspect of the voice that should actively vary, a task that can be accomplished by installing a microphone at each interface to record the noise level and adjust the projected speaking volume accordingly. This would ensure that the speech can be heard easily and comfortably by all users during various times when the noise level may be higher or lower.

Safely Crossing, Safer

The intersection between 5th and spring street doesn’t particularly stand out against those in other part of the city, or even in other cities; pedestrians wait at either side, while drivers idle at the lights, both waiting to occupy the intersection while the other is not (or, for those less fortunate, at the same time). Among many menial tasks, the most important one undertaken in the intersection is crossing it.

The current interface designed to facilitate the completion of this task works; there are clear markings on the road painted in a cautionary yellow to guide walkers, and traffic lights for both the pedestrians and drivers. Accompanying this visual interface is the characteristic sound of a city; the zooming of cars, indicating their speed and position in space, and the barely audible footsteps of people. What’s missing however, is useful sound; sounds that are specifically there to help drivers and walkers safely cross. Adding sound will offer a new dimension to the interface, providing more cautionary stimulus to warn users of dangerous situations. Specifically, the addition of a loud, unique “beep” to notify pedestrians when it is and isn’t safe to cross:

walk           stop

Often, drivers are confronted with an unknowing jaywalker gazing down at his phone, unaware of the intersection, and the purely visual interface that exists. In the improved system, when the pedestrian steps about 25 feet before the intersection, a motion activated “beep” will sound if there is on-coming traffic, directing his attention away from the distraction. The addition of unique sounds is more beneficial than using speech direction; chatter between other people is often ignored, so it can be anticipated that speech from the interface would be too. Furthermore, there would be an issue of consistency; it is impossible to match the voice of the interface to every pedestrian. A neutral voice could be proposed; however, this only falls under the category of ignored speech, not differing from the existent ambient chatter.

The improvement of the driver’s experience with the interface would draw on visual properties, sound not being of use when traveling in a sound proof vehicle (for the sound to be heard, it would be irritating to the pedestrians). With our vision focused on the road (as needed to make a turn), new visual signals will surely be noticed. Adding lights indicating the presence of a pedestrian in the crosswalk (specifically for cars turning right on red) can increase safety for the pedestrians, while alleviating the drivers’ concern of hitting an unseen pedestrian.

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