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NYC testing lasers that detect when people fall onto subway tracks

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woman on subway platform larry nicosia flickr
woman on subway platform larry nicosia flickr

Imagine you're in the New York City subway late at night, probably drunk, likely in a great mood. You trip over one of the mysterious random objects that litter the city's underground — say, a lost high heel — and suddenly find you've fallen into the filthy, deep well of the train tracks, amid the rats and the rainwater. Just as you catch your bearings, you look up to see the bright lights of an oncoming N train.

This scenario isn't far-fetched. About a year ago, the New York Post ran a grisly photo of a man with his arms over the side of the platform with an oncoming Q train train 20 feet away, the photographer's flash catching the whites of the terrified conductor's eyes. "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die," read the headline. And he did.

"Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die."

This year was a bad one for subway deaths. On average, 134 people have been hit by subways and 49 killed every year since 2001, according to the MTA. This year, 144 people were hit and 52 died, and we still have two more weeks to get through.

Now the city is hoping to bring those numbers down using new technology. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is testing motion sensor lasers, thermal imaging, intelligent video software, and radio frequencies to determine the best method of detecting when a person falls onto the subway tracks.

The lasers would beam across the tracks, Mission Impossible-style. When the beams are interrupted by a body, it triggers an alarm that will stop oncoming trains. The radio frequencies would work similarly. Thermal imaging would detect body heat on the tracks, and the smart video software installed in the closed-circuit cameras would recognize when a large object moves from the platform to the tracks.

The testing will take place at an undisclosed station sometime in the next few weeks, but as Mashable notes, the MTA can't exactly afford to implement such a high-tech program widely. And considering 1.6 billion people ride the subway every year, the death rate is really quite low. Of course, that doesn't mean much if you're one of the unlucky victims. In other words: be careful out there.