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ATPD pedestrian button
push button for traffic signals

This is a great example of the government acting as an entrepreneur to innovation.

In 1967 a blind man named Cecil McIlwraith asked the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to introduce pedestrian traffic signals he could hear. At a city crossing, the RTA installed some bells and buzzers on both sides.

Blind pedestrians were meant to cross when the buzzing sound replaced the ringing. Unfortunately they found that when the bells broke down they sounded like buzzers, which could cause deadly confusion in blind pedestrians.

The next version, installed in 1976, had a two-rhythm buzzer and included a vibrating panel to touch, because many vision-impaired people also have some loss of hearing.

In the early 1980s Sydney consultants Nielsen Design Associates were asked to redesign the device. The new unit was made from cast aluminium with vandal-proof fixings. The large magnetic button (tested to withstand millions of pushes) is easy to find and push. A Braille arrow on the vibrating plate indicates the direction to cross.

The RTA still owns the design and technology of this revolutionary button. Since 1985 it has contracted three companies to make the 'Audio-Tactile Pedestrian Detector' in Australia and sell them throughout Australia, the USA and Singapore.

The ATPD pedestrian button leads the international standards for acoustic and tactile signals for traffic lights. The audio-tactile pedestrian detector has given pedestrians with vision, hearing and physical impairments greater confidence and freedom to move about independently.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
Louis A. Challis and Associates Pty Ltd : audio-tactile R&D for RTA

Aldridge Traffic Systems : manufacture

Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW (RTA) : coordination

Nielsen Design Associates : industrial design

AWA Limited : manufacture
Key People
Frank Hulscher : RTA traffic engineer
David Wood : designer at Nielsen Design
Louis Challis : engineer

Further Reading
A signal career
Frank Hulscher
Roads and Traffic Authority, Sydney, 1993, pp 72-76.

Prisma Teknik (makes audio pedestrian signals)
Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW

Questions & Activities
ATPD pedestrian button

Related Innovations
SCATS traffic flow system

The ATPD pedestrian button. The tough magnet operated button can survive thousands of pushes. The raised arrow can be felt with the fingertips and shows the direction to cross. Powerhouse Museum photo, Andrew Frolows.
ATSE Powerhouse Museum