Smart vehicles could mean big changes for traffic lights

As cars and trucks become smarter and more connected, the simple lights that have controlled traffic flow for more than a century may also be on the cusp of a major transformation.

Researchers are looking for ways to use features like GPS in modern cars to make transportation safer and more efficient. Ultimately, the upgrade could eliminate today’s red, yellow and green lights altogether, handing over control to driverless cars,

Civil engineering professor Henry Liu, who is leading a study at the University of Michigan, said the rollout of a new traffic signal system may be closer than people imagine.

“The pace of progress in artificial intelligence is very fast, and I think it’s coming,” he said.

Traffic lights haven’t changed much in America over the years. According to historian Megan Kate Nelson, Cleveland introduced the first “municipal traffic control system” in 1914. Wrote for Smithsonian Magazine, Powered by electricity from the city’s trolley line, engineer James Hodge’s invention consisted of two lights: red and green, colors long used by railroads. 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 Potts is credited with adding the yellow light, although as a city employee he could not patent it. By 1930, Nelson wrote, all major American cities and many small towns had at least one electric traffic signal,

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

Among those reimagining traffic flow is a team from North Carolina State University, led by associate engineering professor Ali Hajbabai. Instead of eliminating today’s traffic signals, Hajjabai suggests adding a fourth light, perhaps a white one, to indicate when there are enough autonomous vehicles on the road to take over and lead the way.

“When we get to the intersection, if it’s red we stop and if it’s green we go,” said Hajjabai, whose team used much smaller model cars to capture it. “But if the white light is activated, you just follow the vehicle in front of you.”

Although Hajjabai’s research also refers to a “white phase” and possibly a white light, the specific color is not important, he said. Current lights may also suffice, for example, by modifying them to flash red and green simultaneously to signal that driverless cars are in charge. The key will be to ensure that it is universally adopted like the current signals.

Hajbabaei acknowledged that using such an approach would take years, as 40% to 50% of vehicles on the road would need self-driving to work.

Waymo spokesperson Sandy Karp said the self-driving car subsidiary of Google’s parent company launched Fully autonomous ride-sharing service In Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, even without a fourth traffic light.

“While it’s great at this early stage of AV development that people are thinking creatively about how to safely deploy AVs, policymakers and infrastructure owners should be cautious about jumping on AV-specific investments too soon Which can prove dangerous. “Premature or even unnecessary,” Karp said in an email to The Associated Press.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have taken a different approach. They conducted a pilot program in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham using insights from speed and location data found in General Motors vehicles to change that city’s traffic light timings. Researchers were recently awarded a grant to the US Department of Transportation under bipartisan infrastructure legislation to test how to make changes in real time.

Because michigan research Dealing with vehicles that have drivers, not fully autonomous, it may be much closer to widespread implementation than what Hajbabaie is seeking.

Liu, who is leading the Michigan research, said only 6% of the vehicles on Birmingham’s roads are connected to GM’s system, yet they provide enough data to adjust traffic light timings to smooth the flow. We do.

The 34 traffic signals in Birmingham were chosen because, like more than half the signals nationwide, they are set on a fixed schedule without any cameras or sensors to monitor congestion. Liu said that although high-tech solutions for monitoring traffic exist, they require complex and expensive upgrades from cities.

“The beauty of it is you don’t have to do anything for 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 preliminary data in Birmingham adjusted green light times by only a few seconds, but it was still enough to reduce congestion. Even bigger changes could be coming under new grant-funded research that will automate traffic lights at a yet-to-be-announced location in the county.


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