The city of Vienna recently commissioned a team of developers at Austria’s Graz University of Technology to develop a button-free pedestrian crossing system that uses artificial intelligence to get the job done. Rather than pushing a button and wondering if it actually matters while waiting to cross, the new method will employ cameras and image classification algorithms to determine when people need to cross the street.
This new system will use a crossing light-mounted camera with a 26 by 16-foot area of view and use custom-developed algorithms to analyze pedestrian movement, path choice, and crossing intention. The AI will send its results to the existing traffic system to request a walking light change and it will permit walking as soon as possible. Once the walk light turns on, the AI will monitor pedestrian crossing to ensure safety. Rather than using a simple timer, the AI will inform the traffic system when pedestrians have crossed safely or abandoned their crossing ambitions so the light can turn off.
The team of developers also considered two important factors: outdoor weather and privacy concerns. The system was designed to operate in imperfect conditions and even function during power fluctuations. Additionally, only the AI can see the images captured by the camera. The system will neither transmit or record anything in an effort to maintain pedestrian privacy.
While this evolution of your standard traffic light should provide some much-needed improvements to safety and efficiency, it still remains in its infancy. The developers deserve credit for their efforts to create technology that creates a safer environment without making sacrifices, but some of the responsibility for our privacy still lies with us. These new systems may become the targets of malicious exploits someday.
With feature-rich and inexpensive security cameras (e.g. Wyze) flooding the consumer market we’re already watched by more digital eyes than ever. Home networks typically provide a much easier target for hackers and, along with other common exploits (e.g. webcam hacking), so new camera-based traffic systems likely pose far less of a threat (so long as reasonable precautions are taken to prevent malicious activity. While we should remain aware that we live in an era of constant surveillance with questionable security, we can at least rest a little easier when crossing the street in the near future.
Top image credit: Nicola Di Concilio, Rog. a de Souza, and Adam Dachis
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