Although traffic lights are certainly a far more efficient way of herding large volumes of traffic than the four-way stop, these ‘robots’ as we call them in South Africa are far from the ultimate solution.
For starters, there is plenty of wastage, even in the case of the best-timed intersections, as cars sit and idle while one or two vehicles from the perpendicular street get their turn. Efficient it’s not, but what if there was a better way of doing things?
Ford and Honda have recently presented ideas for ‘smart intersections’ although we are more than a little uneasy about one of them.
Ford’s proposed system uses vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology to perfectly ‘choreograph’ the movement of vehicles through intersections. Inspired by the way pedestrians adjust their speed to avoid those crossing their paths, the tech that Ford is testing could advise drivers on what speed to drive through an intersection (which no longer has traffic lights) in order to avoid a collision.
While this would be an incredibly efficient way of getting cars through intersections, there are some obvious pitfalls. Apart from that fact that it requires all vehicles on the road to be equipped with V2V systems, it relies on drivers to actually follow through on its instructions, which is where things could get downright dangerous.
On the upside, Ford also envisions this technology for autonomous vehicles, which is where it starts making sense to us.
Speaking up for safety
Honda’s Smart Intersection doesn’t solve the efficiency problems that Ford’s does, but it is a great safety solution.
The system, which uses ‘vehicle-to-everything’ (V2X) technology has already been deployed as a pilot project in Honda’s US home city of Marysville, Ohio.
It uses four cameras mounted above the traffic lights at each corner of an intersection to capture bird's-eye-view video of surrounding vehicles and pedestrian traffic. Should there be an approaching hazard - such as a vehicle that looks like it's going to jump a red light - it conveys warnings to the surrounding vehicles through their on-board computers, which use the car’s systems to issue the appropriate warning to the drivers.
Yet regardless of how smart intersections evolve into the future, it’s almost certain that today’s inefficient traffic intersections will eventually make way for more tech-savvy solutions.
Perhaps one of the better ideas for now would be to have traffic light systems that vary their timing in real-time based on traffic data available.