Pittsburgh’s AI Traffic Signals Will Make Driving Less Boring

Idling in rush-hour traffic can be mind numbing. It also carries other costs. Traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy $121 billion a year, mostly due to lost productivity, and produces about 25 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, Carnegie Mellon University professor of robotics Stephen Smith told the audience at a White House Frontiers Conference last week. In urban areas, drivers spend 40 percent of their time idling in traffic, he added.

The big reason is that today’s traffic signals are dumb. Smith is developing smart artificial-intelligence-fueled traffic signals that adapt to changing traffic conditions on the fly. His startup Surtrac is commercializing the technology.

In pilot tests in Pittsburgh, the smart traffic management system has gotten impressive results. It reduced travel time by 25 percent and idling time by over 40 percent. That means less time spent staring out the windshield and more time working, being with your family, or doing anything else. I’m a Pittsburgh resident who has witnessed the city’s rapidly-evolving urban landscape. And I can attest to the mostly frustration-free driving that has resulted from this system despite the city’s growing population.

Read more at IEEE Spectrum.