A slew of innovative solutions for roadways has emerged this past year, from solar panel-paved roads to an artificial intelligence-powered program that automatically monitors road conditions.
Now another high-tech project can be added to that list. London-based Umbrellium, an urban technology firm, has developed the world’s first smart crosswalk, Starling Crossing, expressly for the smartphone age.
Standing in roughly for “Stigmergic Adaptive Responsive Learning,” Starling is a responsive road surface that reacts in real time to different traffic and pedestrian conditions by modifying the patterns, layout, configuration, and the size and orientation of pedestrian crossings in order to prioritize pedestrian safety.
The road, a full-scale prototype of which has been installed in South London, is made from LED-embedded plastic panels that display crossing markings, warnings, and other indications that are meant to direct and alert both drivers and pedestrians.
Cameras monitor the crosswalk at all times and feed the computer-controlled LEDs with data that in turn illuminates the crossing, according to the website:
Using a neural network framework, cameras track objects that are moving across the road surface, distinguishing between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, calculating their precise locations, trajectories and velocities and anticipating where they may move to in the next moment.
The Starling Crossing also takes into account the time of day. At night and during the early morning, when there are virtually no people on the road, the crosswalk may “disappear” altogether. On the other hand, during rush hour, for example, the image of the crosswalk may expand in width to accommodate more pedestrians.
Starling also accounts for distracted pedestrians looking at their smartphones or children who may run out into the street unexpectedly. In those instances, a warning pattern lights up or otherwise creates a buffer zone around them to indicate to nearby drivers and cyclists of the their general trajectory.
Starling, then, puts people first, “enabling them to cross safely the way they want to cross, rather than one that tells them they can only cross in one place or a fixed way.”