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A smarter way to get a green light

Victoria University graduand James McCann’s concept for smarter traffic light control might not please Aucklanders obsessed with their cars, but they’d likely admit it’s a good idea.

That’s because the model is more likely to favour trucks or vehicles with lots of passengers than a car with one person in it.

Traffic lights systems are currently reactive, with the duration of light phases based on the number of cars that have driven through a particular intersection. McCann’s model is proactive and considers vehicles approaching an intersection to determine which gets priority.

The former School of Computer Science student, now working at development company 3months, came up with Priority Based Traffic Control (PBTC).

It works by using a controller at the intersection that wirelessly receives GPS coordinates and other information about the vehicle, including weight, speed, number of occupants and time spent waiting at traffic lights. The variables are put into a cost model to estimate the cost of stopping or being delayed at an intersection.

Vehicles of any age could be retrofitted with a device like a small dashboard computer to communicate with traffic control infrastructure, says McCann.

“At the moment the prototype/concept for this system is being simulated via software that I developed during my Honours project at Victoria, so there is no specific controller that is being used.

“We are using the term controller to describe the roadside computer that would be placed at each intersection (similar to what is currently used at New Zealand intersections) to make the traffic control decisions and change the lights.”

The 22-year-old’s project is owned by Victoria University, but McCann believes it could be commercially developed in partnership with transport industry companies.

“A fair amount of R&D would be required to bring this to fruition, but I believe the wireless technology is more than likely to make it into all of our vehicles in the future, so there is definitely an opportunity to take advantage of that.” 

Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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