Still Not Convinced About IoT? Let’s Look at Traffic Lights.

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Still Not Convinced About IoT Let’s Look at Traffic Lights image 1

Still Not Convinced About IoT? Let’s Look at Traffic Lights.

It’s a universal truth that we don’t like sitting in traffic. It’s a supreme waste of time and can have a significant impact on our emotional health!

How many times have you been running late for a meeting and you find yourself sitting idly at a red traffic light with – literally – nobody in sight. Perhaps you live in an area where you must navigate a string of traffic lights from one end of your town to the other, and somehow, you are forced to stop at every single one.

And, our all-time favourite, those frustrating times when you’re dealing with school or rush-hour congestion, but the traffic lights are set to a specific timer, no matter the time of day. And so, you and your 50 fellow commuters sit in single file while the lights change to allow through that single vehicle coming the other way.

However, we are convinced that the Internet of Everything (IoT) is on the cusp of providing a solution to our traffic woes.

How so?

The Real Road Issues!

The problem with traffic congestion is not the traffic lights per se; accidents, poor driving, weather conditions and just the sheer volume of cars on the road all contribute to this problem.

We have to agree, however, with the sentiment reflected in the following research paper in ResearchGate:

“The setting and synchronization of traffic lights of an axis or an area are very complex, and sometimes unsatisfactory for all or part of them. In addition, according to several studies, traffic lights would be responsible for half of the traffic jams and thus half the pollution, and poorly regulated lights can cause the tripling of the fuel consumption, therefore CO2 emissions and other pollutants emissions, when traffic is cluttered or too sparse.”

It’s clear that our emotional well-being is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to traffic congestion.

The article further states, “As consequences, traffic jams have many economic, social, health and environmental consequences.  In addition to reducing traffic speed, traffic jam is a major source of air pollution due to additional fuel consumption and less mixing of air layers with health costs and medium-  and long-term climate through emissions of greenhouse gases.

When traffic jams prolong the journey, the vehicle uses more fuel. Studies show that the plugs can cause CO2 emissions by over 850 tonnes per year, and in one place. Fuel consumed when a vehicle is stopped in traffic results in the emission of greenhouse gases and pollutants resulting in deterioration in air quality.”

The costs and the environmental impact add up, and this is something that should be causing concern for the powers that be.

Still Not Convinced About IoT Let’s Look at Traffic Lights image 2

The Current Status Quo

Given that most of the roads and associated fixed infrastructure have been around for a while, it’s understandable that they are dated. The number of people in cities is growing, therefore the number of cars on the road increases steadily.

Traffic Controller Systems

Traditionally, traffic lights have been controlled by a timer… We can see the problem there, can’t we?

Fast-forward a few years and most traffic lights are currently managed by an induction loop, which is a reliable method of detecting traffic at an intersection. These sit just beneath the road surface which makes them immune to weather and other external damage.

The problem with this type of controller is that it is reactive. In order to solve massive traffic congestion problems, we need a more proactive approach.

Microwave radar detectors are becoming more common as they are easy to install and maintain. This method detects large objects in motion and feeds this information into the system which responds accordingly.

Video detection is another option which makes use of complex vehicle detection software to assist with managing traffic lights.

How Can IoT Solve The Problem?

It’s been predicted that there will be some 50 billion devices with an IP address by the end of 2020.

If we can turn our coffee machine and outside lights on from the comfort of our office, then surely there is hope for an interconnected system for traffic control?

There is good news in the offing.

An exciting article from Business Insider says, in part, “South Africa’s very first algorithm optimised traffic lights will be rolled out in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, in the first quarter of 2019, Stellenbosch University announced on Friday.

“A similar rollout of the German-developed technology in India along a 3km route with six signalised intersections in Delhi resulted in travel time reduced by 26%. Traffic queues shrank by 37%.”

That’s an excellent start.

But there’s more.

Here Mobility, a global company geared toward “making mobility seamless and efficient” has cracked the code. Their smart traffic management system is an exciting example of a project with incredible advantages.

They say, “A city should leverage big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) as part of its smart traffic system. IoT, in the context of traffic management, refers to smart, connected devices like sensors, vehicle-mounted information systems, and even private mobile phones. These devices transfer information via the internet to a central system for analysis.”

How is this done?

  • Smart traffic lights minimize inefficiencies such as traffic jams or vehicles waiting at empty intersections. A network of smart traffic lights can identify patterns in traffic conditions and update their signals in real-time.
  • Smart traffic signals improve traffic flow by:
    • Detecting congestion: Traffic lights and sensors collect information from infrastructure sensors and communicate with vehicles on the road, using this information to influence traffic patterns.
    • Synchronizing activity between traffic lights: Sensors placed at intersections gather information about traffic conditions to synchronize traffic light activity.
    • Updating traffic light timing in real-time: Traffic lights adjust their timing according to real-time traffic conditions. Traffic lights are thus no longer limited to providing signals at predefined time intervals.
    • Updating and informing drivers of ideal speeds: Some smart traffic lights help drivers by suggesting an optimal driving speed. Drivers who maintain this speed will always reach the next traffic light when it is green. This helps regulate traffic and creates a concept of “always green traffic lights”.
    • Prioritizing transportation flow: Traffic lights and signals prioritize public transportation over private vehicles; when buses, ambulances, taxis or cyclists approach a traffic light, they always receive preference over private cars in the intersecting road.
  • Smart traffic lights have several benefits:
    • Reduce congestion and time spent on the road to improve efficiency
    • Make the road safer, reducing the chance of accidents
    • Provide data to further improve transportation
    • Decrease pollution by reducing congestion


IoT Saves The Day – Again

It may be hard staying abreast of the galloping technology that is shooting up around us, but it is incredibly exciting to watch it unfold.

In a nutshell, connectivity is the glue that holds so many of these innovations together and allows seemingly disparate originations to work together to create something much greater than the sum of their parts. Which makes our business of connecting businesses – large and small – a critical one now, and in the future.

So, can the IoT save us from traffic jams? Very much so… watch this space.

Hernafi, Yassine & Rghioui, Anass & Bouhorma, Mohammed. (2016). IoT for ITS: A Dynamic Traffic Lights Control based on the Kerner Three Phase Traffic Theory. International Journal of Computer Applications. 145. 40-48. 10.5120/ijca2016910557.

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