smart sidewalks

Intelligent sidewalks could be coming to Toronto

It's a terribly dangerous time to be a pedestrian in Toronto (or anywhere in the world with lots of cars and people.)

On Friday morning alone, six people were struck by cars locally in separate incidents over the course of only three hours. A total of 1,418 pedestrians had already been hit by cars in Toronto this year as of Oct. 31.

Whether these collisions are the fault of distracted drivers, "zombie" pedestrians or something else entirely, the solution to stopping these accidents could lie in the field of artificial intelligence.

The U.K.-based software firm Umbrellium recently unveiled an interactive, computer-controlled crosswalk that promises to "make pedestrians, cyclists & drivers safer and more aware of each other."

Called Starling Crossing (STigmergic Adaptive Responsive LearnING), the tech-stacked crosswalk is able to react dynamically, in real-time, to different road conditions using cameras, LED lights and neural networks.

The crossing can instantly change its own size, layout, orientation, markings, colours, and even create "buffer zones" when it senses that a collision might happen.

"If a person is distracted, looking down at their mobile, and veers too close to the road surface when a car is nearby, a warning pattern lights around them to fill their field of vision," reads Umbrellium's website.

"If a child runs into the road unexpectedly, a large buffer zone is created around them to make their trajectory clear to any nearby drivers or cyclists."

Being that the work is still very much in its experimental stage, some analysts speculate that Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs could adopt the technology as part of its new, high-tech "smart city" in Toronto.

Starlight Crossing sidewalk"A key part of that future vision is rethinking the way cars and people interact," writes NBC's Mark Harris of Sidewalk Toronto.

"Until now, much of that effort — from Alphabet and others — has been dedicated to building self-driving cars that steer around obstacles and automatically brake to avoid collisions."

But what if our sidewalks were as smart, or even smarter than today's autonomous cars? Could intelligent pavement save us from ourselves?

It'll be a while before we find out, if ever, but it's a fascinating (albeit incredibly expensive) idea.

Photos by

Umbrellium


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