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Guardian angel for pedestrians

Mobile warning system against traffic accidents

Milon_Gupta

Milon Gupta

Eurescom

gupta@eurescom.eu

You don’t have to visit Iraq to lead a dangerous life – just step out of your house and try to cross the street. Every year, 127,000 people are killed and 2.4 million injured in traffic accidents across Europe, according to the WHO. Pedestrians and cyclists suffer considerably – they are involved in 20 percent of serious accidents. A new mobile warning system from Japan may make the life of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users less risky.

Four years ago, safety of pedestrians ranked highly on the political agenda in Europe, but appears to have slowly faded from public attention ever since. On 17 November 2003, the EU adopted a directive for “the protection of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users before and in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle”, which was then integrated in the national laws of member states. The major point was to force the automobile industry to produce car fronts less damaging to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Since then, the issue seemed to be regarded as solved in Europe by political decision-makers.

Japanese initiative for pedestrian safety

Quite the opposite in Japan: the Japanese government has ambitious plans for increasing pedestrian safety through advanced information and communication technologies. Under the "New IT Reform Strategy", announced by Japan's Cabinet Office in 2006, Japan plans to develop new technologies that will reduce the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents. Government and industry in Japan will start large-scale trials for systems to improve safe driving from the fiscal year ending March 2009, with plans to start operations from the fiscal year ending March 2011.

Safety Mobile Phone

First results of this political strategy are already visible. In May 2007, Japanese telecommunications manufacturer OKI announced a trial production of their "Safety Mobile Phone", which OKI claims to be the world's first mobile phone specifically designed to improve pedestrian safety.

The “Safety Mobile Phone” notifies both vehicles, if they are on collision course with pedestrians, as well as pedestrians, if are a car is close and moving towards them. The solution is based on the combination of GPS (Global Positioning System) and DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication). Embedded in the pedestrian’s mobile phone is a small DSRC module for communication with surrounding vehicles.

Early warning system

The pedestrian’s device creates a DSRC wireless area of several hundred meters radius and communicates with cars that have inter-vehicle communication equipment on board. The device sends out its location information at a regular time interval within the area. When the two locations become close and when the received power from each device goes over the specified value, location information will constantly be exchanged. In addition, when there is a high possibility of a traffic accident based on the location information, it will warn the driver and the pedestrian early enough to avoid a collision. The pedestrian will be warned through a vibration alarm, and the driver will be warned via a voice message. Thus, the chances to avoid an accident will be increased.

"We focused our attention on leveraging mobile phones, since they are used by over 80% of the population in Japan. Our goal is to improve the safety of vulnerable road users including pedestrians and those on bicycles," said Masao Miyashita, President of Systems Solutions Company at Oki Electric Industry. "We plan to develop products in line with the New IT Reform Strategy and to work closely with car manufacturers to develop applications to improve safe driving and improve safety for pedestrians."

In the further development of the “Safety Mobile Phone”, OKI wants to lower the power consumption, achieve smaller sized DSRC wireless modules, and improve the user interface. OKI also intends to integrate 3G mobile phones, PHS ((Personal Handyphone System), and Wireless LAN functions into a single mobile handset as part of a large-scale public-private experiment to be conducted in Japan. OKI also plans to achieve compatibility with IEEE802.11p, the international DSRC standard.

Lessons for Europe

The Japanese efforts to improve pedestrian safety also deserve attention in Europe. The European population is ageing rapidly, which means that millions of elderly people will populate the streets who have impaired vision, low response times and limited physical flexibility. Pedestrians with these attributes have an above-average risk of getting injured or killed in traffic accidents. Thus, giving them a mobile guardian angel may be a good idea.

References:
OKI website – http://www.oki.com
EC website on protection of pedestrians – http://europa.eu/scadplus/leg/en/lvb/n26030.htm

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