SS 11

In recent years, Shibuya’s scramble intersection has shot to international fame as a symbol of the sheer energy and extreme congestion that can be found in downtown Tokyo. The five-road nexus is one of the busiest crossings in the world, and it’s not unusual to see as many as 1,500 people making their way across it – usually in opposite directions – when traffic in all directions stops.

With such a massive amount of pedestrians trying to get to the other side, navigating the scramble intersection without careening into anyone can be a tricky affair, especially with three giant video screens and several times as many mini-skirted legs pulling your attention away. But what if we added yet another distraction, in the form of every single person staring at their smartphone as they crossed? How many collisions would we see then? 10? 20? 50?

Try hundreds.

NTT Docomo, Japan’s largest cell phone provider, has become concerned about the growing number of smartphone related accidents in Japan. Of course, you can’t have smartphone accidents unless you have smartphones first, so Docomo can’t help feeling a little culpable.

Of course, using the same unfair logic of elementary school teachers, it takes two to have a collision, one to collide and one to be collided into. So even if a few people can’t tear their eyes away from their personal best round of Candy Crush or the stellar piece of Internet journalism they’re perusing on their phone, as long as everyone else keeps an eye out, things should be OK, right?

Docomo decided to take this attitude to its mathematical extreme, though. What if everyone crossing the Shibuya scramble was staring at their phone? To investigate just how much bedlam this would cause, the company ran a simulation, then recreated the results in the following computer animated video.

First, let’s take a closer look at the five streets that come together to form the intersection.

SS 1

It’s worth remembering that both blocks in the bottom half of the diagram function as exits for the incredibly busy Shibuya Station, and that the third street from the right (the one without a crosswalk stretching across it) is the pedestrian thoroughfare called Center Gai. The street’s collection of shops, fast food joints, and bars means that Center Gai is packed at pretty much all hours of the day, which means a steady people gushing out of and hurtling into the point where it meets up with the scramble intersection.

For its simulation models, Docomo used the average size of a Japanese adult, with a height of 160.3 centimeters (5 feet, 3.1 inches) and weight of 58.8 kilograms (129.4 pounds).

SS 2

Since Shibuya sees both people leisurely window shopping and hurrying to catch a train, the simulation uses three different walking speeds, ranging from 3 to 6 kilometers an hour (1.9-3.7 miles per hour).

SS 3

Each model’s field of vision was adjusted to reflect staring at a smartphone, with the unit held below eye level, for a total range of perception that Docomo calculates is just five percent of what your eyes can take in normally. The resulting loss in awareness means that a person looking at their screen won’t see another pedestrian until the two are within one and a half meters (4 feet, 11 inches) of each other.

SS 4

Once the two notice each other, Docomo’s simulation accounted for three possible reactions each person could take, stopping, moving forward while dodging to the side, or continuing straight ahead.

SS 5

With the parameters all set and the recreated intersection stocked with 1,500 models, it was time for Docomo to turn its digital marionettes loose.

SS 6

Linguistically ironic as it may be, predictably, chaos ensued.

SS 7

SS 8

In the event two pedestrians couldn’t avoid each other, the test factored in three potential outcomes, with one being to stop and apologize in the Japanese way, with a deep, respectful bow.

SS 9

Unfortunately, stopping to bow means spending more time in the middle of the intersection itself, where you’re still an obstacle for other people to bump into, often setting off a chain reaction of bowing.

To represent stronger jolts, some models, upon being hit, drop their phones and stop to stare in shock.

SS 10

Most dramatically of all, some pedestrians collide with such force that they’re completely laid out in the middle of the street.

SS 11

So, what’s the total damage, for a single green light?

446 collisions
103 knockdowns
21 dropped smartphones

Most pitiful of all, though, is that after taking out all the models which collided or had to apologize to someone, only 547 out of the 1,500, or a paltry 36 percent, made it to the other side of the street without incident.

So remember, everyone, save your mobile phone for when you’re not mobile, and keep your eyes front when you’re out and about. And for those of you who absolutely have to be playing with your phone at all times, we recommend a tactile diversion, rather than a visual one, as you cross the Shibuya scramble.

Source: Hachima Kiko
Video, images: YouTube