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Smart Traffic Control: The Pittsburgh Example

The all know them, traffic jams. Cause for stress, loss of money and time, and extra carbon dioxide emissions. This is an area where smart technology really can make our lives easier. The city of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (USA) is pioneering with smart traffic technology in combination with Artificial Intelligence.

Pittsburgh cuts down travel time by a quarter and traffic jams by 40 percent using radar sensors and cameras at every light to recognize traffic activity. The data coming from the sensors is used by Artificial Intelligence to streamline the traffic in the most intelligent and optimal way by reacting to the traffic conditions in real time.

The system used is called Surtrac, a startup founded by Carnegie Mellon professor of robotics Stephen Smith. As of 2016, Surtrac is installed at 50 intersections in Pittsburgh, with additional expansions currently in planning.

Surtrac, the technology

So, what is special about the technology? The Sutrac technology combines concepts from the fields of artificial intelligence and traffic theory, and is designed specifically for optimizing traffic flows in urban road networks, where there are multiple, competing dominant flows that shift dynamically through the day.

In contrast to most commercial adaptive traffic control systems, Surtrac takes a totally decentralized approach to control of traffic in a road network: each intersection allocates its green time independently based on actual incoming vehicle flows, and then projected outflows are communicated to neighboring intersections to increase their visibility of future incoming traffic.

Reliance on decentralized intersection control ensures maximum real-time responsiveness to actual traffic conditions, while communication of projected outflows to neighbors enables coordinated activity and creation of green corridors. The system is inherently scalable to road networks of arbitrary size, since there is no centralized computational bottleneck.

Smart traffic, interaction with smart cars

In addition to reducing emissions from idling, the program could also lead to lower demand for on-street parking and road expansion. Pittsburgh is also a test area for Uber’s self-driving cars, and the intelligent traffic signals will communicate with the autonomous vehicles for fluid traffic through intersections.

The next step is to equip cars to talk to traffic signals. The Surtrac Pittsburgh test includes short-range radios at 24 intersections around the city. Radio-equipped cars are expected to be on the market soon, and after-market products like Lear’s could be fitted to existing vehicles.

By expanding use cases for connected cars through parking apps and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, smart cities are setting a new precedent for automakers, civil planners and citizens in urban areas.

This technology could easily be used in other cities across the world, as traffic jams are a problem for about every major city in the world. A similar pilot is run in the city of Rotterdam, The Netherlands. This city is doing a test in which traffic lights will be activated when they sense more than one bicyclist through body heat. Meet the Rotterdam Thermicam.

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