With the traffic volume in the European Union expected to double over the next 20 years, more safety measures will be needed to protect pedestrians, disabled and elderly from the perils of the road. Researchers in Belgium have answered the call by coming up with traffic lights that literally watch out for pedestrians. The lights have this new intelligence thanks to developments in semiconductor technology and the introduction of a video-detector chip. The video-detector chip, the invention of IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Center) in Belgium, is housed in a camera in the traffic light. Like any camera, the device records images of the road and pavement. But it can do much more. The chip also makes it possible for the device to see and monitor the speed of a person crossing the road, determine how the traffic light should respond to the pedestrian and communicate this information to the traffic light. Based on this input the traffic light adjusts the length of the light to accommodate the slower pedestrians. but the light won’t stay green indefinitely. The system is built so that it can be limited by the transportation authority. Until now the project has focused on testing the components of the system. now the aim is to build and integrate the necessary hardware. Several field tests are planned in Belgium by mid-1998 and later in Germany and the UK. Negotiations are also in progress with the US. The technology is the outcome of Watchbird, a project funded by the European Commission. In addition to IMEC the project involves the Belgian research center WTCM/CRIF (Wetenschappelijk en Technisch Centrum van de Metaalverwerkende Nijverheid – Centre de recherches scientifiques et techniques de l’industrie des fabrications metalliques) which develops the video detector algorithms, the Flemish Ministry of Transport and the companies Monitron International Ltd and Weiss Electronic GmbH. The Belgian firm, Traficon NV, a company specialized in video-based traffic detection systems, coordinates the project. The company also has plans to market the chip worldwide and patent the device by the end of this year.
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