A lot of people are worried about what happens when you mix pedestrians with self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles (AVs). There is a real concern that some pedestrians might play chicken with them, knowing that they are programmed according to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and may not injure a human being. Years ago David Alpert wrote in Citylab:
We might see a small number of people taking advantage of that to cross through traffic, knowing the cars can't kill him. That will slow the cars down, and their drivers will start lobbying for even greater restrictions on pedestrians, like fences preventing midblock crossings.
Google has proposed flypaper to soften the blow; I have suggested revisiting Norman Bel Geddes’ idea of grade separating cars and people. However recent patent drawings by Matt Cortright and shown on City Observatory shed light on some other, more modern and high tech approaches. Joe Cortright describes what I think is the most interesting one:
Pedestrian Shock Bracelets. Most pedestrians are already instrumented, thanks to cell phones, and a large fraction of pedestrians have fit-bits, apple watches and other wearable, Internet-connected devices. We propose adding a small electroshock device to these wearables, and making it accessible to the telematics in autonomous vehicles. In the event that the autonomous vehicle’s computer detected likelihood of a car-pedestrian collision, it could activate the electroshock device to alert the pedestrian to, say, not step off the curb into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Or there might be Personal Airbags. Frankly, I am surprised these are not mandatory for pedestrians now. There are already airbag helmets for cyclists, and so many pedestrians are being killed these days while carelessly crossing the street with the right of way or even walking on the sidewalk. Drivers demand that cyclists wear helmets; why don’t they insist pedestrians wear airbags? It’s only logical.
Cortright (Joe) notes how successful the campaign to regulate unruly pedestrians has been so far.
The advent of cars led us to literally re-write the laws around the “right of way” in public streets, facilitating car traffic, and discouraging and in some cases criminalizing walking. We’ve widened roads, installed beg buttons, and banned “jaywalking,” to move cars faster.
But surely we can do better. We already have mandatory bike helmet laws in Australia and some states and provinces; They have been proven to dramatically reduce the number of cyclists on the road. It’s time for mandatory dayglo air bag laws for pedestrians stepping into public space. Sure, they are hot and uncomfortable and dorky and will make a lot of people think twice about walking, but it is for their own good.
More great ideas from Cortright and Cortright at City Observatory