Our love affair with smartphones could put us in life threatening situations.
Our love affair with smartphones could put us in life threatening situations.

Tech to save 'zombie' pedestrians from walking into traffic

IT IS time to put down your smartphone for your own safety.

Ilsan in South Korea has had to install a radical new safety device to counteract the growing trend of pedestrians refusing to look up from their mobile phones and wandering into traffic. The modern day phenomenon even has a name "smombies" (smartphone zombies).

Similar trials have been run in Sydney and Melbourne but the South Korean version takes it up a few notches.

The tech doesn't just involve footpath mounted lights that change colour - it also uses laser beams and even sends an alert to nearby devices via an app to gain the attention of risk-taking pedestrians.

Pedestrian test lights at the intersection of Goulburn and Pitt streets, Sydney.
Pedestrian test lights at the intersection of Goulburn and Pitt streets, Sydney.

The technology uses an array of thermal cameras and radar to detect distracted pedestrians. Each set-up is reported to cost about $20,000.

Pedestrian deaths are a big issue in South Korean. According to Reuters there were more than 1600 pedestrian deaths in car related accidents in South Korea in 2017 - about 40 per cent of total road fatalities. In Australia's road toll in 2018, pedestrians accounted for 15 per cent of fatalities.

The technology was developed by the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT). The state-run institute believes that the light show will benefit drivers and pedestrians alike.

LED stoplights at a crosswalk in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
LED stoplights at a crosswalk in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

"Increasing number of smombie accidents have occurred in pedestrian crossings, so these zombie lights are essential to prevent these pedestrian accidents," said KICT senior researcher Kim Jong-hoon.

Kim Dan-hee, a 23-year-old resident of Ilsan, told Reuters she welcomed the advance.

"This flickering light makes me feel safe as it makes me look around again, and I hope that we can have more of these in town," she says.

This isn't the first time governments have had to resort to extreme measures to keep pedestrians safe. Earlier this month Tel Aviv in Israel installed LED light strips in the approach to a busy intersection to alert wandering walkers. The lights glow red to warn pedestrians to stop, then green when it is OK to proceed.

Sydney and Melbourne ran similar trials a few years ago with footpath lights installed at busy intersections. The Sydney trail was reported to have cost about $380,000.


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