Crosswalk Insights for the Vision Impaired

Monday, May 16 2011

Written by Steven Nelson

MOSCOW, Idaho – Most people don’t think much about crossing the street. Even at a busy intersection, the "walk" or flashing "don’t walk" signs tell them when it is safe to cross. However, for the vision impaired, it can be challenging as they can’t see the sign or the traffic, or struggle with noise issues created by heavy traffic.

Research done at the University of Idaho now is helping the vision impaired safely cross intersections.

“The system was in development for six years,” said Richard Wall, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, who led the faculty and student team.

The Advanced Accessible Pedestrian System currently is in commercial production at Campbell Company of Boise and being installed in cities throughout the United States. Wall led the research and development of the AAPS.

Much of the students' time was spent devising ways to make the intersection safer even when the system failed. If the call button fails, the system enters a safe mode that works as if the call button has been pressed even when there is no one making use of the cross walk.

The result of this collaboration can be seen in Wall’s lab. Mounted on plywood are the call boxes that connect to traffic signals in the office. They are identical to the system now in production at Campbell Company.

The AAPS was installed at the corner of Sixth and Deakin in Moscow earlier this year – about a year after it had been installed in Minneapolis, Minn. It is the first pedestrian signal in Moscow that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The new signal provides information visually with a traditional lighted signal, audibly through a recorded message and through touch – all in an effort to provide as much information as possible to the pedestrian in order for them to cross the busy intersection safely.

Once the button is pressed, the signal begins to provide information. The system tells the pedestrian to cross or wait. If the button is depressed for a longer time, a recorded voice provides information about the intersection and the button will vibrate when it is safe to cross.

Gloria Jensen disability support services coordinator is excited about the new cross walk on campus.

“The APS pedestrian signal update is an exciting and important step forward in providing easier accessibility for people with visual disabilities, while allowing for greater independence and safety,” said Jensen.

The Office of Technology Transfer is responsible for licensing any technology developed at the University of Idaho that may have commercial application.

“The AAPS is an example of how research at the university may reach the real world,” said Karen Stevenson, licensing associate in the Office of Technology Transfer. "In this case, the researched was sponsored by the Campbell Company and a licensing agreement was reached through our office."

Phil Tate, president of Campbell Company was directly involved in the development of the AAPS.

“I have worked with the University of Idaho since March of 2007," said Tate. "Dr. Richard Wall and his team have been effective in working through the myriad of complexities associated with an advanced technology device. We have built a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship that will continue into the future.”

Technology was not the only thing transferred from the University of Idaho. Zane Sapp worked on the development of the AAPS while a graduate student at the university and began work at Campbell Company as an engineer in July 2010.

“Working on this project in grad school was the perfect stepping stone to landing my job at this company," said Sapp. "I not only learned troubleshooting skills that I use every day here, but I learned the jargon that is used every day in this industry. I learned more working on this single project than I did in any lab or homework exercise.”

Sapp continues to work on the AAPS as Campbell Company’s engineer. Improvements to the system are his responsibility.

“As always testing products in the field shows us quickly where we lack robustness. The product is in its early stages so it is evolving,” said Sapp.

The system is ready for wide spread distribution. Sapp anticipates installing as many as 90 systems in the coming year.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to be classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit