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South Korea radar and thermal camera system alerts ‘smartphone zombies’ of the traffic

ILSAN, South Korea (Reuters) – A city in South Korea, which has the world’s highest smartphone penetration has installed flashing lights and laser beams at an intersection to warn of “smartphone zombies” to search and drivers to slow down, in the hope of preventing accidents.

Kim Jong-hoon, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) shows an application of the ‘Look Out’, which gives a warning to a user is derived by the use of smart phone while crossing a zebra crossing, in Ilsan, South Korea, March 12, 2019. Photo taken on March 12, 2019. The message reads: “A car is approaching from the left, look out for the car”. REUTERS/Minwoo Park

The designers of the system were prompted by growing concerns that there are more pedestrians glued to their phones are victims in a country that already has some of the highest road death and injury rates among developed countries.

State-run Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) is of the opinion that its system of flashing lights on pedestrian crossings and can warn both pedestrians and drivers.

In addition to the red, yellow and blue LED lights on the sidewalk, “smombies” smartphone-zombies – be warned by the laser beam is projected from electricity poles and a signal sent to the phones via an app that they are about to step into traffic.

“The increase of the number of smombie accidents have taken place in the crossings for pedestrians, so this zombie-lamps are essential to prevent these pedestrian accidents,” said KICT, senior researcher Kim Young-hoon.

The multi-dimensional warning system is controlled by radar sensors and thermal cameras, and comes with a price tag of 15 million won ($13,250) per intersection.

Motorists are warned by the flashing of the lights, which have been shown to be effective in 83.4% of the time in the institute the test with about 1,000 vehicles.

In 2017, more than 1,600 pedestrians were killed in car-related accidents, that is approximately 40 percent of the total number of traffic fatalities, according to data from the Traffic Accident Analysis System.

South Korea has the world’s highest smartphone penetration, according to Pew Research Center, with approximately 94 percent of the adults in the possession of the devices in 2017, compared to 77 percent in the United States and 59 percent in Japan.

For now, the smombie warning system is installed only in Ilsan, a suburban city about 30 km northwest of the capital, Seoul, is expected to go nationwide, according to the institute.

Kim Dan-hee, a 23-year-old resident of Ilsan, welcomed the system, saying they are often too engrossed in her phone to remember to look at the traffic.

“This flickering light I feel safe, because it makes me again, and I hope we have more of these in the city,” she said.

Reporting by Minwoo Park; Editing by Jack Kim and Robert Birsel

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