Thanks to things like smartphones and automotive infotainment systems, both pedestrians and drivers are probably now less aware of one another than ever before. An experimental new crosswalk could help keep accidents from happening, however, through a variety of lights, electronic signs, and an app.

Designed by a team at the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology, the system starts by using a thermal imaging camera to detect pedestrians who are approaching the crosswalk. When someone is detected, the system responds by illuminating LED warning lights that are embedded in the asphalt on either side of the crosswalk. These lights are said to be visible from up to 50 meters away (164 ft), yet are not so bright that they will disrupt drivers' vision.

Once a vehicle subsequently gets to within 30 m (98 ft) of the crosswalk, a blinking electronic sign illuminates to warn the driver of the pedestrian – just in case that driver missed the embedded LEDs.

Pedestrians, on the other hand, are warned of approaching vehicles in three ways. First, if an oncoming car travelling faster than 10 km/h (6 mph) is detected, a warning image is projected onto the ground in front of the pedestrian – this should catch the attention of people who are looking down at their phones, or the elderly, who are more likely to be looking at the ground as they walk.

Secondly, an audible alarm is sounded. And third, an app causes the pedestrian's phone to vibrate and sound an alarm of its own.

In field tests that involved about 1,000 vehicles, 83.4 percent of drivers either stopped or reduced their speed in response to the system's warnings. And on roads with a 50 km/h speed limit (31 mph), drivers approaching the crosswalk reduced their speed by almost 20 percent more than when approaching the same crosswalk without the added warning system.

"We expect outstanding results when the system is installed at crosswalks without traffic signals and crosswalks on rural highways, where the rate of pedestrian accidents is high," says project leader Dr. Jong Hoon Kim. "We intend to continue to develop the system, so that drivers can be notified of upcoming crossings via their navigation apps, and also vehicles can automatically slow down when dangerous circumstances are detected."

It is estimated that the system will cost about US$13,300 per crosswalk to install, and that its socioeconomic benefits should far outweigh that expenditure.

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