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A step towards smarter cities

A step towards smarter cities

With an abundance of new technology allowing our cities to become more efficient, safer and greener there is much discussion around the future of ‘smart cities’.

The latest prototype that looks to join the smart city movement comes from architectural firm Umbrellium. Umbrellium (who are working in partnership with Direct Line insurance) have announced a new digital pedestrian crossing that looks to revolutionise the way pedestrians and road users navigate through towns and cities.

Usman Haque, the founding partner of Umbrellium commented that the traditional paint-on-the-floor crossings are no longer apt for modern day cities, "We've been designing a pedestrian crossing for the 21st century. Crossings that you know were designed in the 1950s, when there was a different type of city and interaction."

In fact, research from the Transport Research Laboratory highlights that 7,000 accidents come from painted crossings each year in the UK.

Umbrellium have designed a new smart crossing that looks to combat this by making crossing the road safer. The design means that the crossing does not appear on the road until it is safe for you to cross, at which point LED stripes are lit up in order to tell cars to stop and allow for pedestrians.

One of the most astonishing parts of the design is the reaction time of the crossing which is less than one-hundredth of a second, making the road safer for children who may run into the road or even cyclists who are travelling as a fast speed.

The actual design of the crossing is made of a twenty-two metre long responsive exterior that is supported by a steel structure, meaning that it cannot be damaged by cars or vans driving across it. The LED lights are also covered with a special plastic that is able to hold great weight and protect from water. The actual technology that supports the lighting fast reactions is in the form of two cameras which film the road.

As with most modern technology the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used and machine learning enables the system to recognise and categorise each object in the camera view. The camera works in tandem with a computer which takes the images and creates the colours and patterns required to warn motorists when to stop.

The systems machine learning means that the crossing can react to numerous real life situations and can respond accordingly.

The crossing can even adapt to human tendencies, for example if most people choose to cross at a certain part of the road in order to reach a certain shop, or because it’s the entrance to a school the crossing will learn from this and adjust its path. This is something Usman Haque is inspired by ants, "Ants put down pheromones when they go foraging - that pheromone attracts more ants to that same path, so they build up their pathway. If people were always tending to go in one direction - that's the safe place to put the crossing,"

Whilst the actual use of these crossings in our cities is still some way off as the companies think about logistics, there is no doubt as to the positive change they could bring. The testing of this ground-breaking technology puts us step closer to the future smart city.

Watch this space.

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