Future Traffic Lights Will React in Real-Time

Traffic lights that respond in real-time could help increase traffic flow and decrease emissions.
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Traffic lights that respond in real-time could help increase traffic flow and decrease emissions.
traffic lights

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan

The technology behind traffic lights hasn't changed much over the years — some have cameras, others have sensors, but they have mostly stayed the same. Engineers are working on a concept that will take traffic light technology to the new level and making them accommodate for the future of driving by predicting driver behavior and reacting to traffic patterns in real-time. 


Traffic planners throughout the U.S. review data every few years to adjust traffic signals and improve overall movement. This process is beginning to change as new technology emerges, as Inhabitat reports in a recent article. In Utah, traffic planners adjust signals almost in real-time thanks to a system of closed-circuit cameras connected to a fiberoptic network. This allows planners to adjust signals in as little as 30 seconds.

More efficient traffic lights have many benefits, including environmental ones. Efficient traffic flow can lead to fewer emissions. However, systems like the one in Utah can be expensive. So Stephen Smith from Carnegie Mellon University is working to develop an automated system that uses radar sensors and cameras to adjust traffic lights in real-time.

Smith and his team have spent the last few years testing the system, and have found that travel times decreased by 25 percent and idle time decreased by 40 percent. This led to an emissions decease of 20 percent.

Another researcher, Carolina Osorio from MIT, is working on a separate project that will predict the way drivers behave and allow cities to prioritize based on specific needs, such as high pedestrian flow in certain areas. 

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