Will Smarter Cars Bring ‘Optimized’ Traffic Lights?

“Researchers are exploring ways to use features in modern cars, such as GPS, to make traffic safer and more efficient,” reports the Associated Press.

“Eventually, the upgrades could do away entirely with the red, yellow and green lights of today, ceding control to driverless cars.”

Among those reimagining traffic flows is a team at North Carolina State University led by Ali Hajbabaie, an associate engineering professor. Rather than doing away with today’s traffic signals, Hajbabaie suggests adding a fourth light, perhaps a white one, to indicate when there are enough autonomous vehicles on the road to take charge and lead the way. “When we get to the intersection, we stop if it’s red and we go if it’s green,” said Hajbabaie, whose team used model cars small enough to hold. “But if the white light is active, you just follow the vehicle in front of you.”

He points out that this approach could be years aways, since it requires self-driving capability in 40% to 50% of the cars on the road.

But the article notes another approach which could happen sooner, talking to Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor who is leading “>a study through the University of Michigan:

They conducted a pilot program in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham using insights from the speed and location data found in General Motors vehicles to alter the timing of that city’s traffic lights. The researchers recently landed a U.S. Department of Transportation grant under the bipartisan infrastructure law to test how to make the changes in real time… Liu, who has been leading the Michigan research, said even with as little as 6% of the vehicles on Birmingham’s streets connected to the GM system, they provide enough data to adjust the timing of the traffic lights to smooth the flow… “The beauty of this is you don’t have to do anything to the infrastructure,” Liu said. “The data is not coming from the infrastructure. It’s coming from the car companies.”

Danielle Deneau, director of traffic safety at the Road Commission in Oakland County, Michigan, said the initial data in Birmingham only adjusted the timing of green lights by a few seconds, but it was still enough to reduce congestion.
“Even bigger changes could be in store under the new grant-funded research, which would automate the traffic lights in a yet-to-be announced location in the county.”

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