Traffic congestion and in the worst case scenario, snakingly endless traffic jams, are the bane of big city living. As well as the negative impact on quality of life, with up to hundreds of hours potentially lost over a year, traffic also costs economies billions in lost productivity.
And the number of cars on our roads is expected to increase even more in coming years – some say by as much as double. Traffic management systems have struggled to keep pace but there is hope that the latest technology in the world is finally set to ease the pain. Is there some hope that technology that manages traffic lights and is able to respond to hold-ups and create temporary diversions could finally cure the ill of congestion and traffic jams once and for all?
New high tech traffic systems that blend AI and big data are currently being worked on and it is hoped they will offer real time traffic management that can make a real difference in coming years. Self-driving vehicles that drive more efficiently, can automate routing collectively and drive safely with much smaller distances separating vehicles also promise to improve traffic congestion. But realistically it will be another couple of decades before their presence has mainstreamed to the extent that will have enough of an impact on city traffic. There needs to be other solutions in the meanwhile. These new traffic technologies should also be built to further complement the efficiencies that should come with driverless vehicles.
Siemens Mobility is involved in one prototype project in India’s Bengaluru where traffic jams can reduce average peak hour speeds to just 2.5 mph. Traffic cameras send back data to AI algorithms which determine traffic density with traffic light systems then adapting to the real time conditions. The next step, something being worked on in a joint project between London’s The Alan Turing Institute and the Toyota Mobility Foundation, is to also be able to accurately predict traffic density minutes or even hours into the future. Pre-empting the density of traffic flows is expected to be even more effective at avoiding congestion and jams than real time reactions by traffic management systems.
Deep Machine AI and increasing flows of data are key to this. More vehicles becoming ‘connected’ will help speed up this process. AI means that complex patterns involving the many moving parts that city road systems consist of can be spotted in a way that the naked human eye and intellect could not. Systems even have to be tied into external sources of information such as weather forecasts and public events and holidays etc. Being able to classify and prioritise different kinds of vehicles from cyclists to emergency services is also important.
Different systems developed by different researchers are currently being tested in numerous cities around the world, most of them with considerable promise. And while it is unlikely that we will see a silver bullet that will transform our traffic woes overnight, there is genuine promise that over the next decade technology will roll out that will have a significant impact on all of our commutes.