The first full-scale working prototype of Starling Crossing was installed temporarily in South London in 2017. It consisted of an interactive pedestrian crossing that responded dynamically in real-time to make pedestrians, cyclists & drivers safer and more aware of each other.

Overview of Starling crossing

Starling Crossing built on our work developing people-friendly interactive systems for public space. Our approach was to reconsider pedestrian crossings in the light of shared space strategies (an urban design technique that reduces the segregation between different road users) and cutting-edge responsive technology that would put people (rather than cars) in control.

… a world-first piece of technology to address the problems that arise when pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles meet at pedestrian crossings.

— Rachael Lynch, Innovation Marketing Manager at Direct Line

The pedestrian crossing is one of the most complex points of urban negotiation that almost everybody experiences every day. However, crossing designs have not been updated for the ways that we use, or need to use, our streets in the 21st century. Most discussion about road technology focuses on vehicles, but with the Starling Crossing (STigmergic Adaptive Responsive LearnING Crossing) we created a responsive road surface that puts people first by updating the design of pedestrian crossings (first introduced in the 1940s) to account for streets with more cars, pedestrians and technology, and a different societal relationship to urban transport infrastructure.

While it uses familiar and understandable road markings and colours, the Starling Crossing reacts dynamically in real-time to different conditions and is able to modify the patterns, layout, configuration, size and orientation of pedestrian crossings in order to prioritise pedestrian safety. The entire road surface at the crossing area is monitored by cameras and embedded with computer-controlled LEDs that can be seen from all angles, during both day and night.

Photographs of Starling Crossing
Photographs of Starling Crossing
Photographs of Starling Crossing
Photographs of Starling Crossing
Photographs of Starling Crossing

Drawing on research by the Transport Research Laboratory, our full-scale prototype, installed temporarily in South London, was designed to support the weight of vehicles, remain slip-free in pouring rain and to display markings bright enough to be seen during daytime.

We used our product Starling CV, consisting of a neural network framework, enabled cameras to track objects moving across the road surface, distinguishing between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, calculating their precise locations, trajectories and velocities and anticipating where they may move to in the next moment.

Neural network framework tracks objects moving in Starling CV
Neural network framework tracks objects moving in Starling CV

At different times of day, and in different situations, the road can alter its configuration in real-time.

Early in the morning when there are few pedestrians, the Starling Crossing may only appear when someone approaches, guiding them to the crossing location that it has learned over time is the safest, leaving the road otherwise free for vehicular traffic.

Later in the day, when pubs close or a film ends and many people need to cross the road at the same time, the Starling Crossing automatically expands in width to accommodate increased pedestrian traffic.

Crossing expands to accomodate increased pedestrian traffic
Crossing expands to accomodate increased pedestrian traffic

If a person is distracted, looking down at their mobile, and veers too close to the road surface when a car is nearby, a warning pattern lights around them to fill their field of vision. If a child runs into the road unexpectedly, a large buffer zone is created around them to make their trajectory clear to any nearby drivers or cyclists.

Large buffer zone created in emergency situation
Large buffer zone created in emergency situation

In a particularly dangerous situation, when a pedestrian is rushing across the street but is in a cyclist’s or driver’s blindspot, the Starling Crossing adapts in the real-time to draw their attention directly to the hidden pedestrian’s location and trajectory.

view of crossing from a cyclist point of view

The Starling Crossing might also adapt to different specific environmental conditions (e.g. creating larger pedestrian buffer zones in wet weather or to keep particularly polluting vehicles further from a school crossing).

Using the principles of stigmergy(c.f. the pheromone traces that ants leave, attracting other ants to the best paths toward food sources) the Starling Crossing is able to monitor and adapt to pedestrian desire lines over long term use so that, for example, if most people exiting a tube station end up walking diagonally across the road towards a park entrance, the crossing is able to reconfigure as a diagonal or even trapezoidal crossing, with corresponding safety buffer zones.

Sketch of Starling Crossing
Sketch of Starling Crossing

The Starling Crossing is a pedestrian crossing, built on today’s technology, that puts people first, enabling them to cross safely the way they want to cross, rather than one that tells them they can only cross in one place or a fixed way. Key design principles include aiming to enhance people’s perceptual awareness without distracting them, and highlighting safety relationships between people and cars so they can make their own decisions, rather than telling them what to do.

With particular thanks to Dan Sloane, Vincent Rebers, Immersive AV, Set Works, Professor Nick Tyler and Christopher Burman.

Commissioned by Direct Line with Saatchi & Saatchi.