New pedestrian traffic light system knows when you want to cross the street

New traffic light system automatically recognizes pedestrians' intent to cross the road.


The push-button pedestrian traffic lights around the city help improve the mobility and safety of pedestrians. If you pressed the button, the lights would turn to green and cars would stop to let you cross. However, it could be sometimes frustrating, as you might not always have a free hand, and also they are very slow.

Now it seems like in the future, our traffic lights could be smart enough where no buttons will be required and the system will itself detects people who want to cross the street and switches to green automatically.

A new pedestrian traffic light system

Using the computer vision, the researchers at the Graz University of Technology in Austria, have developed a new pedestrian traffic light system in the last three years. This camera-equipped traffic light scans a 26-by-15 feet area. When it sees one or more people in the right position, it sends the signals to the lights. And it all happens within a matter of seconds.

The team developed learning algorithms which recognize pedestrians’ intention to cross the street, using global movement models and recorded data.

The system is also able to optimize traffic flow further. It’s more important feature is its flexibility. It can extend green lights, in the case of large groups of persons, who require more time to cross the road. And if persons leave the waiting area before the lights have turned to green, this is also passed on to the lights. The traffic lights subsequently don’t switch to green and there are no unnecessary waiting times for motorized traffic, as explained by Horst Possegger from the Institute of Computer Graphics and Vision.

Researchers also claimed that this method is actually about 3-4 seconds faster compared to if pedestrians were to reach for a button.

Data protection

In addition, the team is aware of potential privacy issues. Although the image data are absolutely necessary to detect pedestrians, the images are only analyzed locally and do not leave the camera. The pedestrian traffic light system works exclusively with geometric information to gauge intent. It couldn’t recognize individuals even if it was fully connected.

Moreover, the traffic light is also equipped with a monitoring system which can report faults immediately. Also, the system can work round-the-clock even in a harsh environment and can also deal with voltage fluctuations, Possegger added.

Right now, it is just a research project. The team is planning to begin rolling out this system over in Vienna by a company called Günther Pincher. It intends to replace the button system in selected locations by the end of 2020.

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