Travel reports reveal that people are going to be spending more time on the road this year than in any other pandemic year. A company is introducing new technology to make sure people actually spend that time in transit, not at a traffic light.
Mary Ann Ha
With car travel and domestic travel set to explode this summer, everyone expects to see record levels of people on the road in 2022. As traffic jams seem unavoidable in response to pent-up travel demand, a new machine learning and artificial intelligence – based on a network of video and radar sensors, offers a solution to traffic congestion.
When traffic management company NoTraffic realized that the traffic light technology used today was very outdated, they wanted to see if there was a better way to do things, starting with combining the hardware today with a smarter software platform.
NoTraffic’s new technology system is currently being sold to local governments and their transportation departments as they work with traffic engineers in the region to address specific intersection needs and provide oversight to adjust visual weather algorithms as required. The company is privately held and does not disclose financial data.
“Most of today’s traffic algorithms, although there are a few quite advanced ones, were developed in the 1980s, and they’re all story-based,” said Norman Tutnauer, chief commercial officer of NoTraffic. “We’re using artificial intelligence and machine learning to really understand what’s happening now, not what happened five years ago, which isn’t even relevant today.”
In the past, more than 70% of intersections were not connected or communicated with each other, and therefore had no idea of the activity taking place between the streets. Not only do NoTraffic’s cameras detect vehicles at farther distances than existing cameras, they also provide a real-time communication infrastructure between intersections. As a result, the flow of traffic monitored by these new systems moves in the most efficient way possible, bringing about a more advanced era of traffic infrastructure.
NoTraffic saw its AI system reduce traffic blockages by 50-60%, with overall travel time reduced by 40-50%, according to a customer case study.
The system also helps improve road safety, which, especially during the pandemic, has actually deteriorated significantly. Due to the obvious preference for socially distanced transport modes, there are more vulnerable users on the roads, i.e. pedestrians, bicycles and scooters, who are hit more often. Thanks to the improved traffic system, pedestrians spend less time in vulnerable places and wait less time at intersections.
“Covid changed everything,” Tutnauer said. “It changed traffic patterns, it changed the way people lived, and all of a sudden the old algorithms aren’t very effective anymore. You can’t rely on them, and this is really the first “summer post-Covid”. No one knows what the traffic will really be like. No one knows how many people will actually be on the road.
Unlike older traffic infrastructures, NoTraffic’s systems do not need to be replaced with updated versions. The data is constantly recalculated, with thousands of simulations running every minute at every intersection and rethinking the traffic light pattern every fifteen seconds. When a new intersection is integrated into the network, NoTraffic’s technology begins by becoming aware of its surroundings, with the first two weeks after sensor installation being dedicated solely to data collection.
More importantly, NoTraffic’s commitment to reducing traffic congestion also responds to the global effort to reduce emissions, providing a more realistic reality for sustainable travel. Using their advanced sensors, the technology has learned to prioritize certain types of vehicles that produce higher levels of emissions due to their size or model. At an intersection with lots of heavy traffic, the system makes sure those vehicles are moving as quickly as possible by actually identifying the type of vehicle and giving them priority.
NoTraffic continues to grow its business across the United States, with upcoming partnerships to be announced in the coming months. Currently, cities in California, Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania have hosted the NoTraffic system. As the company continues its experimental development outside of the United States, it plans to expand into Western Europe by next year.
The company also hopes to “future-proof” its system by incorporating various types of inter-vehicle communications, which many automakers are beginning to introduce today. By integrating this technology into their own sensors, the system may be able to facilitate communication within the infrastructure and help drivers manage all kinds of safety messages, such as warning signs when a vehicle is at risk of running a red light.