Smarter vehicles could mean big changes to traffic signals

As cars and trucks get smarter and more connected, the humble lights that have dominated the flow of traffic for more than a century could also be on the cusp of a major transformation.

Researchers are exploring ways to use features found in modern cars, such as GPS, to make traffic safer and more efficient. Eventually, upgrades could completely eliminate today’s red, yellow and green lights, Releasing control to self-driving cars.

Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor leading a study at the University of Michigan, said the rollout of the new traffic light system may be much closer than people realize.

“The pace of AI advancement is very fast, and I believe it is coming,” he said.

Traffic lights haven’t changed much in the United States over the years. Cleveland first launched what is considered the first “municipal traffic control system” in 1914, historian Megan Kate Nelson reports. He wrote for Smithsonian Magazine. Powered by electricity from the city’s trolley line, engineer James Hodge’s invention featured two lights: red and green, the colors long used by railways. A police officer sitting in a booth on the sidewalk had to flip a switch to change the signal.

A few years later, Detroit police officer William Butts was credited with adding the yellow light, although as a city employee he was unable to obtain a patent for it. By 1930, Nelson wrote, all major American cities and many small towns had at least one Electric traffic light.

However, the emergence of connected and automated vehicles has presented a world of new possibilities for traffic signals.

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Among those reimagining traffic flows is a team from North Carolina State University led by Ali Hajibabai, associate professor of engineering. Instead of getting rid of the current traffic lights, Hajibabai suggests adding a fourth light, perhaps white, to indicate that there are enough autonomous vehicles on the road to take over and lead the way.

“When we get to an intersection, we stop if it’s red and go if it’s green,” said Hajibabai, whose team used model cars small enough to carry them. “But if the white light is active, just follow the car in front of you.”

Although Hajibabai’s research suggests a “white phase” and perhaps even white light, the specific color is not important, he said. Existing lights could be sufficient, for example, by modifying them so that they flash red and green simultaneously to indicate that self-driving cars are taking over. The key will be to ensure they are adopted as universally as existing signals.

Hajibabai acknowledged that using such an approach would take years, because it would require 40% to 50% of vehicles on the road to be self-driving in order for them to operate.

Waymo spokesperson Sandy Karp noted that Google’s parent company, the self-driving car company, has launched a self-driving car A fully self-driving ride-sharing service In Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, even without adding a fourth traffic light.

“While it is good at this early stage of AV development that people are thinking creatively about how to facilitate the safe deployment of safe AVs, policymakers and infrastructure owners must be cautious about jumping in too early on AV investments.” Leadership, which may turn out to be beneficial.” “Premature or even unnecessary,” Karp said in an email to The Associated Press.

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Researchers at the University of Michigan took a different approach. They ran a pilot program in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham using insights from speed and location data on General Motors vehicles to change the timing of traffic lights in that city. Researchers recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to test how changes could be made in real time.

Because of Michigan Research Dealing with vehicles that have drivers, rather than fully autonomous drivers, it may be much closer to being implemented on a larger scale than Hajbabai seeks.

Even with as few as 6% of vehicles on Birmingham’s streets connected to GM’s system, it provides enough data to adjust the timing of traffic lights to smooth out flow, said Liu, who led the Michigan research.

Birmingham’s 34 traffic lights were chosen because, like more than half of the signals across the country, they are set to a fixed timetable without any cameras or sensors to monitor congestion. Although high-tech solutions for traffic monitoring exist, they require cities to make complex and expensive upgrades, Liu said.

“The beauty of this is that you don’t have to do anything to the infrastructure,” Liu said. “Data doesn’t come from infrastructure. It comes from car companies.”

Initial data in Birmingham adjusted the timing of green lights by just a few seconds, but it was still enough to reduce congestion, said Danielle Deno, traffic safety director for the Oakland County Road Commission in Michigan. Bigger changes could be made under new grant-funded research that would automate traffic signals at a yet-to-be-announced location in the province.

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