We’ve all had it happen. Sitting alone at a traffic light with zero cross-traffic. It brings up the idea of, ‘no cop, no stop.’ No, I’m not arguing for everyone to run red lights, but there has to be a better way. According to a startup out of Carnegie Mellon, there is. Virtual Traffic Lights.

The idea would rely on cars that could communicate with each other and the road infrastructure. Sounds great, but have you seen our roads in the United States? I’m not sure I’m willing to trust the vaunted DOT with smart traffic lights.

Current traffic lights rely on a preset pattern, one that is designed in the most sadistic way possible. The patterns are designed on expected junction use, which leads to congestion piling up, or you sitting in your car surrounded by no one.

The startup team, led by Professor Ozan Tonguz, says it can be done differently and smarter. Virtual lights would rely on vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

Cars would communicate a variety of metrics including speed, location and direction. Paired with a set of traffic management rules, the intersections could be managed dynamically. It could even do away with traffic lights. Real-time traffic directions could be projected on a screen or on your windshield.

The Virtual Lights system could even prevent congestion. Cars could be slowed before entering a congested area, allowing the area to clear out. “We envision the computing, communication and display device to be possible to retrofit on the existing car,” Professor Tonguz’s team says, “and the project will produce such devices.”

This system could also make first-responding easier. It could allow emergency vehicles to safely clear intersections, and direct commercial traffic away from the site.

Saving time is the biggest benefit of the system, but the startup team says that’s not the only benefit. Emissions could be cut by keeping cars moving, and infrastructure costs would fall.

Sign me up for anything that keeps traffic flowing.

Check out Virtual Traffic Lights for more information.

Image Credit – William Warby (Wikipedia)

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