Intelligent intersections: Hello to automation, goodbye to traffic lights

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Intelligent intersections: Hello to automation, goodbye to traffic lights

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Intelligent intersections: Hello to automation, goodbye to traffic lights

Subheading text
Intelligent intersections enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) might eliminate traffic forever.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • May 4, 2023

    As more vehicles become interconnected through the Internet of Things (IoT), there is vast potential to manage traffic flow more efficiently by allowing vehicles to communicate with each other and traffic management systems. This development could lead to a reduction in traffic congestion and accidents and the ability to optimize routes in real-time. Additionally, this increased connectivity may also make traditional traffic lights obsolete.

    Intelligent intersections context

    Intelligent intersections are made possible by the rising numbers of autonomous vehicles and the IoT. This includes vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communication. Using real-time data, intelligent intersections can seamlessly manage the flow of vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians by assigning vehicles to pass through in batches instead of relying on traffic lights. Currently, traffic lights are needed because human drivers are not as predictable or as accurate as autonomous vehicles. 

    However, in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Senseable City Lab (a simulation of the smart city of the future), intelligent intersections will become slot-based similar to how aircraft landing is operated. Instead of a first-come-first-served basis, slot-based traffic management arranges cars in batches and assigns them to an available slot as soon as it opens up, instead of waiting en masse for the traffic light to turn green. This method will shorten the waiting time from an average delay of 5 seconds (for two single-lane roads) to less than a second.

    As high-bandwidth wireless network infrastructure expanded in 2020, research firm Gartner estimated that 250 million cars were able to connect to it. This increasing connectivity will increase access to mobile content and improve service from smartphones and tablets. Cars will be able to inform about dangers and traffic conditions, pick routes to avoid traffic jams, work with traffic lights to improve traffic flow, and travel in groups to reduce energy usage.

    Disruptive impact

    While intelligent intersections are still in the research phase and will only work if all vehicles become autonomous, some steps are already being made to make them possible. For example, Carnegie Mellon University is studying a technology called Virtual Traffic Lights. This technology projects digital traffic lights on the windshield to inform human drivers of the real-time traffic situation. This way, human drivers can also adapt to the traffic flow and improve safety. Additionally, intelligent intersections could make it easier for people to get around, particularly those who cannot drive, such as the elderly or disabled.

    Additionally, traffic lights will also be adjusted in real-time based on the number of cars on the road and the congestion level instead of a pre-programmed setting; this innovation could significantly increase traffic flow rates by up to 60 percent and help reduce carbon emissions because vehicles will be able to reach their destinations faster. Open communication between vehicles could also alert potential collisions or accidents. 

    Another benefit of intelligent intersections is that they make it possible to optimize the use of existing infrastructure, such as roads and traffic lights, rather than building new roads and intersections. Although there's still a lot of work to be done before traffic lights can be retired, researchers from MIT think that intelligent intersections can transform urban mobility, resulting in lower energy consumption and more efficient transportation systems.

    Implications for intelligent intersections

    Wider implications for intelligent intersections may include:

    • Automobile manufacturers pivoting to producing highly autonomous vehicles that can provide complex data, such as speed, location, destination, energy consumption, etc. This trend will further deepen the shift to vehicles becoming highly sophisticated computers on wheels, necessitating greater investments in software and semiconductor expertise amongst automakers.
    • Smarter infrastructure being built to support the technology, such as roads and highways with sensors and cameras.
    • With more data on traffic flow, road conditions, and travel patterns, there may be concerns about how this data is used and who has access to it, leading to privacy and cybersecurity concerns.
    • Vehicle cybersecurity firms creating additional layers of security to prevent digital hi-jack and data leaks.
    • Improved quality of life for residents by reducing commute times, noise, and air pollution.
    • Reduced emissions from vehicles as a result of reduced traffic congestion.
    • Job losses for traffic control personnel, but new jobs in technology and engineering.
    • Governments being incentivized to invest in intelligent intersections tech during infrastructure renewal projects, as well as prompting new legislation to regulate the use of these new traffic technologies. 
    • Improved traffic flow and reduced congestion at intersections could increase business efficiency and productivity.

    Questions to consider

    • In what other ways can intelligent intersections solve traffic problems?
    • How might intelligent intersections change urban commuting?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: