Traffic Signal AI could help make your commute bearable at last

Startup company Surtrac is currently working on improving traffic light technology with an aim to drastically cut urban commuting time.

I-80, East Shore Freeway. (Image via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2016 — The average American spends 38 hours in traffic each year. In bigger cities like Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco, individuals can spend anywhere from 60 to 70 hours in traffic each year. This means that drivers spend about 40 percent of their driving time idling in traffic.

Startup company Surtrac is currently working on improving traffic light technology with an aim to drastically cut urban commuting time. A major method Surtrac is developing incorporates artificial intelligence within current traffic light technology.      

Surtrac first tested this AI system in 2012 in the city of Pittsburgh. When this technology was first integrated, it was only used in nine intersections throughout the city. As AI technology has advanced, it has slowly expanded to 50 intersections within Pittsburgh. Once the system is implanted throughout the entire city, Surtrac hopes to take it to other cities across the country.

How It Works    

Traffic lights change their displays by means of programmed timing that is usually updated every few years. Unfortunately, as traffic patterns change, these systems tend to fall out of date faster than updates are implemented. Traffic lights incorporating artificial intelligence allow traffic to pass through intersections more efficiently without requiring manual updates. AI traffic lights constantly gather and evaluate data on traffic patterns through the use of cameras, radar signals, and a network of coordinates. To keep things simple, each light only focuses on one intersection. However, that light and its software still communicate with other intersections based on the data collected.

Effects on Different Vehicles    

Artificial intelligence is not a new concept. Cars and trucks like the Toyota Tacoma, can alert the driver when other cars are in the vehicle’s blind spots or when there is a car in the next lane. The AI system being developed for traffic lights is gaining the ability to communicate with cars to inform the driver of any traffic alerts near them. But what about motorcycles?

Unlike cars, when a motorcycle reaches an intersection, the motorcycle is undetected by current AI traffic lights. This can become very inconvenient for motorcyclists who are stuck at a light that would have changed if it had detected a car. Surtac’s goal is to eliminate this problem as its AI system evolves.

Produce Less Emission

Even when cars are idling, they emit harmful chemicals into the environment. Burning one gallon of gas creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. On average, each car emits about six tons of carbon dioxide every year. The AI system, however, has cut idling time by 40 percent and travel time by 25 percent. Researchers have discovered that with this decrease in idling and travel time, the AI system also cuts the amount of emissions being released into the air by 21 percent. As AI traffic light technology cuts the total amount of time cars are on the road, it simultaneously trims the amount of emissions from cars, while also permitting cars to move more freely.

Gives Priorities to Emergency Vehicles

Surtac engineers are also working to incorporate the ability to warn cars of approaching traffic situation as an additional feature of the company’s AI system. While a great help to drivers on the road, this feature will also help emergency vehicles to respond more quickly by helping these vehicles to avoid accidents and get where they need to go faster and more safely. Traffic lights with AI technology will ultimately be able to sense an ambulance or police car and change the lights to such vehicles immediate priority at intersections,. helping them arrive at their destination without worrying about traffic.

Although Surtac’s AI traffic light technology is still in development, once it is perfected it will change the way the average person drives. It will cut travel time, keep emissions under control, and become a valued tool for emergency response vehicles to efficiently reach their destinations. When AI traffic light technologies spread to other cities, as they eventually will, drivers won’t need to worry unduly about leaving for work an hour or two earlier than necessary because AI lights will help lessen traffic loads while making urban road conditions far more efficient and driver-friendly.

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