The future of traffic lights

AI can help time traffic lights to improve emergency response, congestion, and public transit.

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Traffic lights were 1st used in 19th-century England, but the gaslit bulbs were hazardous and prone to explosion.

In 1914, Cleveland installed the 1st electric traffic light. The classic 3-colored lights emerged in Detroit in 1920.

Today’s innovations? Using AI to make our traffic lights smarter.

How it works

LYT (pronounced “light”) is an intelligent connected traffic tech provider. Basically, its software uses data and machine learning to manipulate traffic signals and improve the flow of traffic.

Cities often have traffic sensors, while emergency vehicles, public buses, trains, and even our phones are all equipped with GPS. This forms aggregate data about what traffic looks like at any given moment.

LYT gathers all available data in a central cloud-based system, which “allows us to take that information and turn it into a single story,” CEO and founder Tim Menard explained to The Hustle.

That story is like a real-time, bird’s-eye view of the road

But the AI also learns from past traffic patterns. For example, say there’s a city bus that’s off schedule.

LYT’s AI would take:

  • Historical information (e.g., how long the bus typically waits at a stop
  • Real-time data (i.e., where the bus actually is)

LYT then sets up a “green wave,” in which the bus hits green lights as it needs them.

“Then people who are taking the bus are… less stressed because those buses feel like trains, where they only stop at each bus stop,” Menard said.

A pilot program involving 17 intersections on a San Jose bus route shortened travel times by 20%.

It works on emergency vehicles, too

In Fremont, California, LYT is being used to improve response time.

Principal transportation engineer Eric Hu says that because AI can respond to approaching emergency vehicles at greater distances, it allows “crossing motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to clear the intersections ahead of time,” improving safety.

Other benefits include:

  • Less pollution from stop-and-go traffic (and increased efficiency in EVs)
  • Less overall congestion and reduced wait times for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians

And less stress — especially if you’re not sitting in your car trapped in traffic.

BTW: For more, check out this video on smart lights in the Netherlands.

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