Smarter vehicles could mean big changes for the traffic light

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

Researchers are studying ways to use features in modern cars, such as GPS, to make traffic safer and more efficient. Ultimately, the improvements could completely eliminate today’s red, yellow and green lights, hand over control to driverless cars.

Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor who is leading a study at the University of Michigan, said the deployment of a new traffic light system could be much closer than people think.

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

Traffic lights haven’t changed much in the United States over the years. Cleveland launched what is considered the first “municipal traffic control system” in 1914, according to historian Megan Kate Nelson. wrote for Smithsonian magazine. Powered by electricity from the city’s streetcar line, engineer James Hodge’s invention featured two lights: red and green, the 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 was credited with adding the yellow light, even though he could not patent it as a city employee. By 1930, Nelson wrote, every major American city and many small towns had at least one electric signal light.

However, the advent of connected and automated vehicles has opened up a world of new possibilities when it comes to traffic lights.

Among those reinventing traffic flows is a North Carolina State University team led by Ali Hajbabaie, associate professor of engineering. Rather than removing the current traffic lights, Hajbabaie suggests adding a fourth light, perhaps white, to indicate when there are enough autonomous vehicles on the road to take over and lead the way.

“When we come 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 fit. “But if the white light is active, all you have to do is follow the vehicle in front of you.”

Although Hajbabaie’s research refers to a “white phase” and perhaps even white light, the specific color is not important, he said. Current lights could even suffice, for example, by changing them to flash red and green simultaneously to signal that driverless cars are in charge. The key would be to ensure that it is universally adopted, as current signals are.

Using such an approach would take years, as it would require 40 to 50 percent of vehicles on the road to be autonomous to operate, Hajbabaie acknowledged.

Waymo spokesperson Sandy Karp pointed out that Google’s parent company’s self-driving car subsidiary launched a fully autonomous carpooling service in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, even without the addition of 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 secure deployment of secure AVs, policymakers and infrastructure owners should do be careful not to launch too early into investments specific to AV which could prove useless. premature, if not unnecessary,” Karp said in an email to The Associated Press.

Researchers at the University of Michigan took a different approach. They ran a pilot program in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, using speed and location data found in General Motors vehicles to change the time of that city’s traffic lights. Researchers recently won a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to test how to make the changes in real time.

Because the Research in Michigan deals with vehicles that have drivers, not fully autonomous vehicles, it could be much closer to broader implementation than Hajbabaie is seeking.

Liu, who led the research in Michigan, said that even with just 6 percent of vehicles on Birmingham streets connected to the GM system, they provide enough data to adjust the timing of traffic signals to smooth traffic flow.

Birmingham’s 34 traffic lights were chosen because, like more than half of the country’s lights, they are set on a fixed schedule, without cameras or sensors to monitor traffic jams. Liu said that while there are high-tech solutions for monitoring traffic, they require cities to make complex and expensive upgrades.

“The beauty of this is you don’t have to do anything on the infrastructure,” Liu said. “The data does not come from the infrastructure. This comes from the car manufacturers.

Danielle Deneau, director of traffic safety at the Oakland County, Michigan, Highway Commission, said initial data from Birmingham only adjusted the timing of green lights by a few seconds, but that was still enough to reduce traffic jams. Even bigger changes could be expected under new grant-funded research, which would automate traffic signals in a location in the county that has not yet been announced.

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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