Fear the Walking Text

NHTSA reports a pedestrian is injured in a crash every eight minutes

Published: October 24, 2016, 10:30 PM
Updated: October 29, 2016, 3:11 AM

pedestrian texting

Pedestrian injuries are mounting as more people walk distracted, either because they are texting or they have headphones in and can’t hear what’s happening around them, or they’re hunting Pokemon. Ford wants to put a stop to that.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported that a pedestrian is injured in a motor vehicle incident about every eight minutes. Increasingly, many of them are texting while walking.

The Urban Dictionary calls them Petextrians (n. One who texts while walking, usually unaware of their surroundings.) and it such a global problem that jurisdictions around the world are using different strategies to combat the epidemic.

Chongqing, China, painted Smartphone lanes on a stretch of sidewalk, and Seoul, South Korea, is planning to expand on that initiative. Augsburg, Germany, put a strip of red lights on the pavement to alert petextrians about to cross streetcar tracks, and Rexburg, Idaho, is taking the texting and driving legislation to the people by making it illegal to text while crossing the street, on penalty of a $50 fine.

pedestrian detection

Ford is taking a different approach to the problem, hoping to lessen the number of such injuries through the use of a technology that can predict human movement — Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, debuting on the 2017 Fusion — in order to avoid contact with pedestrians, or at least lessen the impact.

“Since we are trying to avoid a collision that hasn’t happened yet, prediction of the future is an inherent part of the puzzle,” says Scott Lindstrom, Ford driver assist technologies manager. “Having a huge cache of data – based on real-world driving conditions – helps our system be smart enough to determine what may happen in a second that has not yet even occurred.”

Ford estimates its data cache at 240 terabytes (about 20.4 trillion books’ worth), collected in 3 million roadside scans, over 800,000 km of testing in China, Europe and the US.

The system uses radar and camera technology to scan the road ahead, alerting the driver visually and audibly to the collision risk. If no action is taken, the technology applies the brakes full force to stop the vehicle as quickly as possible (and hopefully before impact). That part is not new, but Ford engineers went a step farther by collecting more data to allow the system to detect a wider variety of human shapes and sizes.

The technology picks up the shape through a windshield camera, and combines it with radar sensors around the front bumper to pick up reflections and discern movement in order to predict the likelihood of a collision.

It sounds pretty interesting but it does have one main drawback … it only works in daylight, under clear conditions and at vehicle speeds below 80 km/h. Ford says it is working on advanced systems that will work in reduced lighting or in extensively harsh lighting, as well as with cyclists and pedestrians moving in different ways.