Wave hand to activate green man: Contactless buttons on trial at four pedestrian crossings

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SINGAPORE - They may look similar to the button one presses to activate the green man at a traffic junction, but at two new pedestrian crossings here, a wave of the hand is all that is needed to signal an intention to cross the road.

As part of a six-month trial by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), contactless push buttons were on Thursday (June 30) installed in Jalan Besar, near Syed Alwi Road, and Tampines Street 86, close to Block 879A.

By the end of this month, the buttons will also be on traffic light poles at new crossings in Bukit Batok Street 32, near St Anthony's Primary School, and Yishun Street 21, near Block 219.

Signs with pictures showing how the contactless devices work will be on the traffic light poles at the four trial locations.

Mr Jerry Heng, LTA's deputy director for traffic, street and commuter facilities lighting, said the current push buttons can become defective due to improper use.

Worn out buttons may not send a signal for the green man when pushed, or they may get stuck and keep sending the same green man signal to the system.

As they age, the buttons require more maintenance and, with more than 11,000 installed at about 2,400 traffic junctions, the work can add up.

Over the years, some buttons have also been vandalised and abused through "repeated triggering", Mr Heng said.

Due to misconceptions among pedestrians that each press will make the traffic light turn in their favour quicker, this has led to wear and tear being accelerated, reducing the button's expected 15- to 20-year lifespan, he added.

The hope is that without the mechanical button and physical contact, the new contactless devices will be more reliable and easier to upkeep - saving costs and manpower in the long run.

The contactless buttons also minimise the transmission of Covid-19 and other diseases, with similar trials conducted over the past couple of years in Australia and Canada for this reason.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported in November last year that touchless pedestrian button trials in Melbourne received positive feedback, and drew interest from New Zealand, Ireland and Singapore.

According to the ABC report, the buttons used in the trials cost A$320 (S$305) - about A$100 more than the current ones.

Mr Heng said that to keep the costs of the trial in Singapore low, the contactless buttons being tested here are modifications of the regular ones. But LTA may come up with a new form if the trial run succeeds.

For now, there is still a button in the middle of the new device, but it cannot be used. On the right is an infrared sensor that will detect when a pedestrian waves his hand in front of it.

A contactless button at Tampines Street 86, close to Block 879A. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A red light on the left will indicate if the wave has been registered, and a signal is sent for the green man to light up. It will take a few seconds or more for the green man to appear, depending on the traffic light cycle.

Mr Heng said LTA will be evaluating whether the sensors in the contactless buttons are sensitive enough, and if they can withstand the weather here.

The trial will also look at whether the devices can cope in busy areas, which is why the four trial locations are near amenities and schools with heavy pedestrian flows.

Asked if he thinks pedestrians here will find it hard to change their habits, Mr Heng added that he is optimistic.

"In many other locations where it has been implemented, people are slowly adapting to this kind of technology-driven push-button system."

Pedestrians who have tried the contactless buttons welcomed the move.

“It is a good idea, especially during this pandemic,” said Mr Martin Ng, who works in sales. 

“Many people touch the buttons, so the virus could be on there.”

However, the 44-year-old said the signs put up by the authorities for the trial are easy to miss.

“They need bigger signs telling people to just wave,” he added.

The new buttons may also pose challenges for the visually handicapped, said Mr Chong Kwek Bin, 41, who is visually impaired.

“It is probably less reassuring for us, as we have no idea if the green man has been successfully activated. I would probably be feeling for the position of the sensor before waving my hand, which defeats the purpose,” Mr Chong added.

“With the current buttons, we at least know when we have pressed it.”

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