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Project Type: Ubiquitous Computing Design Research & Videosketch
Collaborators: John Gruen, Emily Sappington
Timeframe: 6 weeks (Fall & Winter 2011)
Personal Contributions: Storyboards, LED Sign Rendering, Presentations, Graphics
Shared Contributions: Design Research and Synthesis, Interviews, Ideation

01. Project Brief

This project was completed in our Basic Interaction class, where we were tasked with designing a ubiquitous computing system. The final deliverables were a videosketch demonstrating the concept, final presentation and a process book documenting our design process. With two avid cyclists in our team of three, we decided to look at how the interactions between cyclists and drivers might be changed with the implementation of a traffic sensor and dynamic sign that would alert drivers to the presence of a cyclist.



02. Design Research

When we embarked on the research for this project, it seemed that the problem of mediating relationships between drivers and cyclists was a “wicked problem”, one that involved education and politics and other complex issues, muddying the definition of the problem itself. To get a sense of what the problems cyclists and drivers were really facing out on the roads, we started our research by creating two surveys (one for each user group of cyclists and drivers) and conducted interviews. Our research plan proceeded as follows:


03. Ideation

From our research we found that traffic and visibility were highly rated as problems by both cyclists and drivers alike, which we saw as design opportunities. Also, we wanted to focus more on city-wide implementations rather than a specific product that not everyone would necessarily purchase. From further research into the literature such as the Pittsburgh Bicycle Plan, we found that oftentimes infrastructure (width of a road, layout of the streets) was the main constraint for city planners looking to make a city more bike friendly. Because of this, many of our ideas revolved around raising awareness and improving communication between drivers and cyclists.


04. Storyboarding

After coming up with many ideas, we shortlisted six to storyboard and show to cyclists and drivers for feedback in several needs validation sessions. We created a different set of storyboards for each user group because we felt that we had two very different viewpoints from which our stories would be told from—either the driver’s seat or on a bike. Some of our ideas included:

  • Dynamic Cateyes – Creating a dynamically-triggered “pop up” bike lane lit by cateyes which would cue drivers on the space clearance when passing a cyclist.
  • Cyclist Left Turn – A cyclist would be able to activate a special left-turn signal to avoid getting in an accident with cars rushing to run a yellow light.
  • Sound Sensor – A cyclist would ride with a mobile app or RFID tag that would cause the driver’s GPS to warn them that there was a cyclist approaching.




05. Final Design

From the feedback we received, we continued developing the idea that we received the most positive feedback on—one of a dynamic sign that would light up whenever a cyclist passed underneath it. From the feedback, we also became acutely aware of the fact that the system we designed had to be sensitive to a few constraints:

  • Scalability
  • Technical and Financial Feasibility
  • Safety and Driver Distractibility
  • Easily Understood by Visitors

After some modifications based on feedback we received, we presented our final design. We called it the Dimensional Traffic Sensor System (DTSS) because we imagined the system to have wider applications in the future. The DTSS consists of several cameras that would recognize forms on the road (not unlike Microsoft’s Kinect). When it detects a cyclist approaching a traffic intersection, it would activate an LED sign with a cyclist symbol. This would give drivers adequate time to prepare to pass the cyclist in traffic, especially for drivers in traffic not directly around the cyclist to see the rear bicycle light. It is our hope that with this design, drivers and cyclists will begin to see that they both have a right to the road but must learn to negotiate the use of the space together.




06. Future Applications

We believe that this system has a few interesting future applications. First, it could easily be scaled to cities of various sizes. Second, since the sensor would essentially be collecting data on the types of traffic that make up the intersection (motorists, cyclists, pedestrians), it would be a valuable source of information for city planners. We envision these sensors forming a network, informing one another as a cyclist journeys from one intersection to another. Finally, we can see these sensors learning to not recognize the traffic patterns of motorists and cyclists, but motorcyclists, pedestrians and any other kind of special traffic on the road as well, leading to a smarter and safer city that can react intelligently.



07. Deliverables

Our final deliverables included a videosketch demonstrating the context of use, final presentation and process book. [Note: The process book will be downloadable soon.]


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