Bluetooth beacon technology could decrease pedestrian injuries, deaths

Bluetooth beacon technology could decrease pedestrian injuries, deaths
With drivers facing more distractions than ever, the impetus is on pedestrians to protect themselves. A study by a UAB researcher indicates that warnings provided through Bluetooth devices may help keep pedestrians safe while walking in cities. (UAB)

More than 4,800 pedestrians are killed in the U.S. 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 and how mobile technology, such as cell phones, can distract both pedestrians and drivers.

David Schwebel led study efforts. (UAB)

“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 in the center of urban Birmingham. 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.

This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.

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