Virtual Traffic Lights

Cut Your Commute in Half with Virtual Traffic Lights

I’m a Michigan driver. Some call us “bad drivers” but I think “efficient” is more accurate. We have somewhere to go, and we want to get there. And if you’re driving slow in the fast lane or waving us on at a four-way stop when it was your turn in the first place (you’re not being polite, you’re just wasting everyone’s time), you’re going to drive us fricking insane.

But there’s something that may be much more universally frustrating: being stuck a stoplight when there’s no oncoming traffic. None. Why is it stopping us? To let all the stupid little ants cross? They probably have plenty of time to, since it feels like those pointless lights last FOREVER.

So imagine my delight when I learned that a team at Carnegie Mellon University is working on a solution: Virtual Traffic Lights. They’re taking traffic signals off of the posts and cables and bringing them into your vehicle. Best of all, they don’t take up any space and project right onto your windshield.

But how does this help save time? Because Virtual Traffic Lights change dynamically according to traffic conditions, thanks to the prospect of intercommunication between vehicles. And the researchers claim it could reduce commute times by 40%.

The technology could optimize the volume of traffic that could make it through green lights while minimizing time stuck at a red light, even eliminating it if no other vehicles are nearby. Virtual traffic lights could be created on demand if two cars are approaching an intersection and turned off once they’re no longer needed.

That dream where every traffic light you come to turns green just for you? It’s a little bit closer to reality.

This isn’t the first time cars have intermingled with traffic lights. Audi has been demoing its own “Traffic Light Online” system. Audi’s technology relies on traditional, physical traffic lights, but the cars and lights can talk to each other. Cars can even detect how long a red light will last and shut the engine off if it will be a while to save gas, automatically restarting it a moment before it turns to green.

You can see Audi’s Traffic Light Online in action here:

What do you think about this technology? Excited about a shorter commute? Worried about Skynet taking over our cars? Little bit of both, maybe?