Mobile Phone to Improve Pedestrian Safety

Worldwide efforts are underway to improve pedestrian safety. In Europe, new vehicle design standards have been implemented to protect pedestrians in crashes. In Japan, officials are taking an intriguingly alternative approach.  Among other efforts, they hope to use mobile phone technology to warn pedestrians of impending accident situations to prevent vehicle-pedestrian crashes.

Under the "New IT Reform Strategy" announced by Japan's Cabinet Office, Japan plans to develop necessary technologies that can reduce the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents. The government and private sectors will start large-scale trials for systems to improve safety driving from the fiscal year ending March 2009, with plans to start operations from the fiscal year ending March 2011.

Part of the response to this initiative comes in a mobile phone with smart features that can help both pedestrians and drivers avoid collisions. The Safety Mobile Phone prototype developed by Oki Electric Industry is able to interconnect the so-called "DSRC" inter-vehicle communication function and the GPS location positioning function with each mobile phone. Pedestrians with this device can create a DSRC wireless area within a several hundred meters radius around them that enables their phone to "talk" with vehicles equipped with inter-vehicle communication equipment. The device sends out its location information at a regular time interval. When car and pedestrian become close, location information will constantly be exchanged between the car and the pedestrian's mobile phone. And when there is a high possibility of a traffic accident based on the location information, it will warn the users beforehand.

"We focused our attention on leveraging mobile phones, since they are used by over 80 percent of the population in Japan," said Masao Miyashita, president of Systems Solutions Company at Oki Electric Industry. "Our goal is to improve the safety of vulnerable road users including pedestrians and those on bicycles."

In the future, phones with this technology will be able to analyze the behavior of other parties instantly based on exchanged location information and the passage of time. When there is a possibility that two parties are near collision, pedestrians will be warned through the vibration function on their mobile phones, and drivers will be informed through voice guidance function on the inter-vehicle communication equipment, helping avoid danger for both drivers and pedestrians.

Although a prototype is working now, there are obstacles to be overcome. OKI will work to lower the power consumption, achieve smaller sized DSRC wireless modules, and improve the user interface. OKI will also make efforts to integrate 3G mobile phones, PHS, and wireless LAN functions into a single mobile handset as part of a large-scale public-private experiment to be conducted in Japan.

So in the future when someone tells you, "My mobile phone was really a lifesaver today," they might actually mean it.