New Technology in Traffic Lights

There have been many technological advancements in traffic lights since the early days of the gas-powered train signal lights that were first used in London in the 19th century. Electricity was a big step up; then came the ability to automatically change the lights from red to green based on traffic conditions. Computers solidified this process in the mid 20th century and helped to create algorithms to maintain a steady traffic flow.

But even with all the technological advancements in traffic lights, there are still times when we are left waiting at a light when there is no cross traffic or when we remain stuck at a light because a car is blocking the intersection. It would make commutes so much better if there were a way for the lights to just know when cars were coming and adjust accordingly. Well, that may not be far off.

Virtual traffic lights

A recent project by Carnegie Mellon University involves the application of a virtual traffic light system which will hopefully one day eliminate waiting at a traffic light when no other cars are present. This could save a good chunk of time on your daily commute and may even help prevent traffic accidents at intersections.

It uses the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT), the same kind of principle that your smart oven uses to send you a text message when your pizza is done. In this case, cars are equipped with wireless connectivity that can communicate with other cars equipped with similar technology. This is called vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, which can be implemented in road signals and other areas of infrastructure as well.

The concept is that vehicles will be able to communicate with each other and traffic signals in real time to eliminate the need for pointless waiting at stop lights. The virtual traffic lights receive data about oncoming vehicles and combine it with readouts from digital mapping services. The V2V technology sends out data on the vehicle’s location, direction, speed, etc. every 1/10 of a second.

This data is received by other vehicles as well as the virtual traffic light system. An algorithm selects one direction of vehicles to receive a red-light command or a green-light command based on the flow of traffic. In instances where there is heavy traffic flow, these commands are rotated regularly, such as every 30 seconds.

This system has been continuously tested since 2017 with positive results. Especially considering the rise of self-driving cars, this technology could possibly be implemented at some point in the not-too-distant future. With the implementation of a virtual traffic light system, the need for physical traffic lights may not be so strong, and in some areas, the work of traditional traffic lights could be phased into a completely virtual system!

Whether you need new traffic lights or parts to fix old traffic lights in your city, get in touch with Signal Equipment Company South today. With over four decades of experience in the industry, we’re prepared to connect you with the equipment you need!