Pedestrian injuries, deaths could be alleviated by new Bluetooth beacon technology

A new type of “guardian angel” technology is being developed to warn distracted pedestrians as they cross the street.

schwebel experts 2017David Schwebel, Ph.D.More than 4,800 American pedestrians die annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham looks at the reasons for the increasing trend in pedestrian injuries and deaths in relation to the role of mobile technology as a distraction to both pedestrians and drivers.

“We continuously see pedestrians walking across streets while using their smartphones and not paying attention to their surroundings,” said David Schwebel, Ph.D., associate dean for Research in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “Interventions to reduce distractions while walking across the street are few and far between. Our team is looking to develop, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of Bluetooth beacon technology to provide warnings to pedestrians who may be in danger of getting hurt or even dying.”

The Bluetooth beacon technology will alert and warn pedestrians when they are approaching dangerous intersections, reminding them to be alert to the traffic environment and to cross the street safely rather than engaging with mobile technology.

“The Bluetooth beacons offer an inexpensive solution to help protect the lives of those walking around our cities,” said Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Computer Science. “We are creating an app that the Bluetooth beacon will communicate with to alert the pedestrian of potential harm. You can think of the app as a guardian angel that looks after pedestrians even when they are otherwise distracted with their phones.”

The research will take place in three phases: technology development, internal testing and a crossover research trial to evaluate the efficacy of the program. The Bluetooth beacons will be placed at highly trafficked intersections and pedestrian crossings at UAB, an urban college campus. The app will have various alerts that include visual warnings, aural warnings, vibrations and potentially phone screen freezing capabilities. The National Institutes of Health provided a two-year grant for $390,566 to fund the research.