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Photo: Akehiko Maeda/Wikimedia Commons

A Seibu Railway service on the Ikebukuro Line, where the foot crossing AI technology is to be trialled.

JAPAN: Seibu Railway is to start testing a newly-developed AI-assisted warning system for detecting obstacles on foot crossings at two stations on the Ikebukuro Line in the suburbs of Tokyo.

These crossings are commonplace at Japanese stations and are distinct from level crossings used by motor vehicles. Typically they are protected by ‘walk/don’t walk’ lights or in some cases gates or barriers; they are seen by many smaller railways as a means of ensuring accessibility at stations without the expense of installing footbridges or subways equipped with lifts and escalators.

However, there is typically no way of notifying the driver of an approaching train in advance if there is an obstacle on the crossing. Some crossings have been equipped with pushbuttons for users to press if they notice an obstruction, setting the signals to danger. However, such systems can be open to misuse.

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Seibu Railway has been working with Oki Electric Industry Co and Marubeni Network Solutions Co to test AI-based tools to better protect these crossings in the event of a person or object getting stuck. Testing of the AI systems has been underway over the past three years, and the first devices are to be put into use at Ikebukuro, Tokorozawa and Iogi stations from mid-December.

The system uses two CCTV cameras, acting as a stereoscopic pair, focused on the crossing. An Artificial Intelligence program compares the images from the cameras to detect the movement of an obstacle, by forming images of the location of the joints of the person or object and creating a 3D rendering. This also works in low light or at night. In the event of an obstacle being detected, the relevant signals can be set to stop without the need for further human intervention.

Footage recorded during the testing will be used strictly for analytical purposes, the railway says. For the time being, crossing users are being asked to continue pressing the warning button if they notice an obstruction on the crossings, as in the past.

Following evaluation of the test results, Seibu Railway is hoping to begin full-scale implementation of the technology at pedestrian crossings from late 2022.