We live in a time where simple solutions to problems are often overlooked for technological answers. It’s no surprise given that many people perceive technology as helpful, and in many instances it is. But it’s always important to figure out what the problem is that a technological answer seeks to solve.
Take a look at this installation at a traffic intersection in Singapore that allows a senior citizen (who has the requisite senior citizen’s card) to “swipe” the pedestrian crossing button to get up to thirteen seconds extra crossing time on a busy street. The “Green Man Plus” system was introduced in 2009 for seniors and “those with disabilities” to be allowed extra crossing time. As ABC reporter Stephen Dziedzic stated on Twitter
“At some Singapore intersections you can swipe your Senior Card and the crossing light will stay green for a little longer, giving you extra time to reach the other side of the road. I find this very touching.”
While the Twitterverse thought this was indeed a very good idea to enhance equity, the question really is who is equal here? And instead of installing hundreds of these pedestrian installations that require a card to activate them, why not increase the crossing time on the timing of the light cycle in favour of all pedestrians, no matter who they are or when they are crossing? If people using the sidewalks and crosswalks are truly the most valued and most vulnerable users, why not treat them that way, and allow everyone a longer crossing time without a card to ask permission?
Locally, another example of technological invention also focuses on the wrong end of the problem.
The Richmond News reported on the award winning innovative design developed by Philip Siwek that is much in the same category. Mr. Siwek has developed “an innovative cycling jacket that lets self-driving cars detect cyclists on the road” which is an “emerging problem” as autonomous vehicles become more prevalent. You will be surprised at how it works- “by having barcodes placed on the jacket that are scanned by vehicles, thus lessening the risk of accidents involving self-driving cars and cyclists.”
The actual jacket has “ integrated machine-readable retro-reflective bar codes that are detectable to AV camera sensors in situations where visibility and correct identification would normally be hindered: at night and in heavy rain, fog or snow.”
But wait a minute~despite this genius invention, the fact that autonomous vehicles cannot “read” cyclists should not be a problem that cyclists need to correct but one that vehicular manufacturers need to figure out. It of course also calls for better road design and protected cycling facilities which should be done anyway to encourage cycling. And what happens to pedestrians and anyone using the sidewalks or intersections in inclement weather? Do they borrow a barcode to cross the street?
The YouTube video below is from the Singapore Land Transport Authority on how to use the Green Man Plus system for those extra few crossing seconds.