Future Habitats

The road crossings of the future are designed for smartphone addicts

By Oliver Smith 9 October 2017

Yes, you.

While most of our cities are being super-charged by technology – from Wayfindr for the blind to Citymapper’s smart buses – the way we cross roads remains positively Victorian.

Painted markings that quickly fade and tiny flashing light signals aren’t exactly cutting-edge.

So how should a 21st century road crossing work? The great minds at design agency Umbrellium and insurer Direct Line joined forces to find out.

Here’s what their ‘Smart Crossing’ of the future looks like:

Crossing the road of the future

Their ‘smart crossing’ is a 22-metre responsive road surface that displays a zebra crossing, using cameras and a computer to adapt its markings based on what’s happening on the road and pavement.

A large group of pedestrians? The crossing can stretch in size, using LED lights beneath the road to adapt its display, lengthening to allow more school kids or concert-goers to cross.

What if a ball lands in the road, and a child runs out? The entire road can react, highlighting the incident to drivers and surrounding the child, guiding them back to the pavement.

The street could even be updated to change the stopping distance around crossings or layout of the road as new vehicles or road safety discoveries are made.

“This is about bringing pedestrian crossings up-to-speed with the rest of a modern-day city,” said Usman Haque, founding partner of Umbrellium.

“Pedestrian crossings as we know them were made for a different age, when the human relationship with the city was completely different.”

While Umbrellium’s creation is clearly just a concept for now, smart road crossings are already cropping up around the world to cater to the new generation of “smartphone zombies” or “smombies”.

Rise of the ‘smombies’

The city of Bodegraven in the Netherlands has been testing “Plus Lightlines”, a strip of LEDs embedded in the pavement for people staring at their smartphones. The strip turns red or green to indicate whether it’s safe for pedestrians to cross, without them ever having to look up.

The Hawaiian capital of Honolulu is less forgiving to smartphone addicts. They now fine people who text or check their emails while crossing the road, £11 for a first offence and up to £75 if you’re a repeat offender.

Umbrellium’s concept is also designed with ‘smombies’ in mind, the pavement displays a countdown timer and crossing symbols for those staring down.

While it’s maybe depressing that Britain’s becoming a ‘smombie nation’ – smart crossings are still undoubtedly a boon for safety and convenience.