Industrial designer Evgeny Arinin designed an LED display that uses its shape, wide arrows, and strong icons to clearly express the rules of the road. Newfangled Traffic Light built for People and Robots.
Newfangled Traffic Light for People and Robots
The three colored circles of traffic lights work hard to control the flow of traffic around the world. Evgeny Arinin accepts this and admires the concept for
its long-lasting effectiveness. But the Russian industrial designer suggests that traffic signals should transmit orders more clearly. With that in mind, he
has designed an alternative: an LED show that uses its shape, large arrows, and strong icons to loudly express the rules of the path.
Arinin’s proposal is still a prototype (and a finalist in this year’s Lexus Design Awards), but it shows a few cracks in existing traffic signage systems.
Remember that the light, a 105-year-old design, seldom works on its own. It is part of a wider, often fragmented, sign ecosystem that alerts drivers to
items like roadwork and school crossings, unprotected lefts, and when they can and cannot turn right into the red. Drivers need to synthesize all this
knowledge as they reach the intersection. Soon enough, so will the vehicles without a driver. With this technology on the horizon, now is the perfect time
for designers to re-imagine how intersection signage will convey all this knowledge more succinctly.
Arinin’s principles incorporate the details you would usually see on two or more signals into one intuitive signal. Every sign is shaped like the intersection
at which it appears; the four-way junction has a cross-shaped (read: four-way) sign. If traffic laws say you can turn right but can’t go straight, the sign
would display a green arrow curving to the right, with a bright red block pointing upwards in the bar. It practically points at what to do with it. “Drivers
could spend less time understanding the lights,” says Arinin, and the colours will remain the same. “It’s not going to force drivers to adjust to a
completely new design.”
To be taken seriously, a new design of traffic lights will have to meet—or, more likely, surpass—existing requirements of legibility. Take visual acuity, or
read text from a distance. “The existing traffic signal does a very good job telling you to move forward, and most people know how it works,” says Denis
Pelli, an NYU psychologist who studies object recognition. “But the design of Arinin seems much better than getting a second sign that tells you when
you should turn left. That’s a useful integration.” Pelli says that he also likes a few other features in Arinin’s definition, such as using numerical
countdown times in signs, along with red Xs to clearly point out what’s out of bounds. In cities like New York, where right turns red are prohibited at
several intersections, despite being legal at the state level, Arinin’s bold, all-in-one signals could allow drivers to see more easily and from a wider distance
what kind of intersection they’re dealing with.