Bio-mimicry in Amsterdam

Trust someone like the dutch to do things just that little bit better than we seem to be able to in the UK. For instance, on a visit this week to Amsterdam I noticed the simple but incredibly effective audio signals they employ at pedestrian crossings, that coincide with the usual visual cues.

A short click, designed to cut through traffic noise, speeds and slows to indicate when you can cross and when the time is running out. Designed as an aid for blind people, the audio alerts are the primary signal that sighted people respond to as well, above the visual cues. You notice everyone quickening their pace across the road as the short clicks change rhythm.

There is a nice bit of bio-mimicry at work in the design of these clicks too. The Deathwatch beetle has evolved over millions of years to produce a similar click, which it uses to communicate to others across long distances and through extraneous ambient noise. Those responsible for the Dutch crossing sound probably didn't directly use the Deathwatch beetle as inspiration, but we should not forget that humans are part of nature also. It's only natural for us to develop similar sounds for a similar purpose. Perhaps instead of bio-mimicry, it's bio-symmetry (or something similar).

This use of audio signals by the Dutch is a perfect example of how we should be thinking about sound as part of urban transformation. Integrating good design into the city soundscape that communicates information efficiently and non-intrusively.

Amsterdam pedestrian crossing signal

Deathwatch beetles communicating