AI-Powered Traffic Control: Researchers Explore Replacing Traditional Traffic Lights

Researchers at the University of Michigan and North Carolina State University are exploring AI-powered traffic control systems to replace traditional traffic lights, using GPS and vehicle data to improve traffic flow. A pilot program in Birmingham, Michigan, showed promising results, with adjusted green light timing reducing congestion.

author-image
Aqsa Younas Rana
New Update
AI-Powered Traffic Control: Researchers Explore Replacing Traditional Traffic Lights

AI-Powered Traffic Control: Researchers Explore Replacing Traditional Traffic Lights

As artificial intelligence continues to advance at a rapid pace, researchers at the University of Michigan and North Carolina State University are exploring innovative ways to harness modern car features like GPS to revolutionize traffic management in cities across the United States. By leveraging AI-powered systems, they aim to replace traditional traffic lights, potentially making traffic safer and more efficient in urban centers such as Detroit and Birmingham.

Why this matters: The development of AI-powered traffic control systems could have a significant impact on urban planning and transportation infrastructure, influencing the way cities are designed and function in the future. As cities continue to grow and grapple with congestion, this technology could play a crucial role in reducing traffic-related accidents and improving overall quality of life.

Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor at the University of Michigan, believes that the rollout of a new traffic signal system could be closer than people think. "The pace of artificial intelligence progress is very fast, and I think it's coming," Liu stated. His team conducted a pilot program in Birmingham, Michigan, using insights from General Motors vehicle data to alter the timing of traffic lights. The results were promising, showing that even with just 6% of connected vehicles on the road, enough data can be collected to adjust traffic light timing and smooth traffic flow.

Meanwhile, Ali Hajbabaie, an associate engineering professor at North Carolina State University, proposes a different approach. He suggests adding a fourth light, possibly white, to indicate when there are enough autonomous vehicles on the road to take charge and lead the way. "When we get to the intersection, we stop if it's red and we go if it's green. But if the white light is active, you just follow the vehicle in front of you," Hajbabaie explained. However, this system would require 40-50% of vehicles on the road to be self-driving, which is still years away from becoming a reality.

The University of Michigan researchers have recently received a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to test real-time changes to traffic lights. The beauty of their approach, according to Liu, is that it doesn't require any infrastructure upgrades. "The data is not coming from the infrastructure. It's coming from the car companies," he emphasized. The pilot program in Birmingham involved 34 traffic signals and showed that adjusting green light timing by just a few seconds can significantly reduce congestion.

As many states adopt laws to phase out gas vehicles in the coming years, the need for infrastructure updates to accommodate electric vehicles has become apparent. However, industry experts like Sandy Karp, a spokesperson for Waymo, a self-driving car subsidiary of Google's parent company, caution against premature investments in autonomous vehicle-specific infrastructure. Waymo has already launched a fully autonomous ride-sharing service in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, without the need for a fourth traffic light.

The potential benefits of AI-powered traffic control systems are significant, promising improved safety, reduced congestion, and increased efficiency. With the University of Michigan's research focusing on vehicles with drivers and North Carolina State University's approach geared towards fully autonomous vehicles, both avenues hold promise for the future of urban transportation. As the technology continues to evolve and more connected vehicles hit the roads, cities like Detroit and Birmingham may soon witness a transformative shift in how traffic is managed, ushering in a new era of intelligent transportation systems.

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers use AI and GPS to revolutionize traffic management in US cities.
  • AI-powered traffic control systems could reduce accidents and improve quality of life.
  • University of Michigan's pilot program in Birmingham showed promising results with 6% connected vehicles.
  • North Carolina State University proposes a 4th "white" light for autonomous vehicles to lead the way.
  • AI-powered traffic control systems could transform urban transportation without infrastructure upgrades.