Want to know when the traffic lights will change?
Soon you’ll be able to through a smartphone app. But this should be easy, right? uhm…well, the art is in making something incredibly complex look effortless….!.
This is the story of a team in Birmingham trying to solve this, and what it could mean, not just for you, but reducing congestion and fuel use, improving air quality and better highways asset management.
This isn’t a shiny out of the box answer, it is collaborative, nose-to-the-grindstone approach, figuring out how to connect existing stuff together in ways never achieved before. And then represent this in an understandable way that helps but doesn’t distract the driver….
In the beginning, imagine…..
You’re driving along, and see a set of traffic lights ahead. They are still on green…can you make it through? You weigh up your choices (essentially, speed up, slow down or continue at same speed), and hope the lights are ‘on your side’.
What if you knew when the traffic lights were going to change? You’d be able to plan the speed of your approach, helping reduce congestion and frustration. You’d also use less fuel, reduce the time sat idling and lower emissions.
Good eh? So, why this is not possible?
After all, at busy junctions, the traffic lights (signals) know the type and number of vehicles approaching them, thanks to detectors (black diamond shaped ‘loops’) embedded in the road surface upstream of the lights.
The loop detectors and traffic lights (signals) talk to each other via a server (connected by a mixture of cabling and wireless). On the server (or ‘in-station’), clever number-crunching programs (using SCOOT – Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique) dynamically adjust the duration and timing of the red and green lights on the signals to deal with the actual traffic conditions.
So, the detectors and traffic lights (signals) know what they are doing, they just keep it to themselves, in their own special language.
What if we could intercept this dialogue between the detectors and traffic signals, and make it understandable for humans?
The age of smart and connected – but what about us?
Those working in the Intelligent Transport Systems world are figuring out how vehicles can tap into this detector/traffic signal conversation and know when the lights will change (Vehicle to Infrastructure communication, or V2I).
In the world of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) world, it’s all about vehicles talking amongst themselves about the things they encounter, like slowing traffic and congestion, enabling them to adjust their speed and position accordingly.
But no-one’s yet figured out how to intercept these detector/traffic signal conversations and present it in a way humans can understand, as they are driving along. This is useful because not all vehicles are yet ‘connected’, and we’ll still have drivers behind the wheel for a few more years.
Solving this issue by making traffic signal timings accessible to drivers via a smartphone app is the objective of a 12-month Innovate UK-funded project in Birmingham, beginning April 2017.