• July 1st, 2019

Green. Yellow. Red. Go. Slow. Stop. Simple instructions commanded by a seemingly simple machine – the traffic light.

The technology is as old as the Industrial Revolution, with the first light, two gas-powered flames, controlling traffic in London in 1868. They have improved since, of course. The current three-light system and electricity came in the first quarter of the 20th Century. In the 1950s, computer-controlled detectors were installed in some lights.

Today, there are about 650,000 signals controlling traffic in the United States, with the vast majority of them left alone after installation. Only when motorists complain do governments tinker with the signal timing and detection.

A team at The University of Alabama is working to change that, modernizing traffic lights to become smarter and communicate with vehicles passing through. These changes are needed, they say, to improve the flow of traffic because building more roads and adding lanes in America’s most congested areas is no longer an option.

“We’ve reached a point in a lot of places in America where we can’t build more roads, so we need to operate them more efficiently,” said Dr. Alex Hainen, a civil and traffic engineering researcher at UA. “We’re using our resources the best we can and applying technology so we can use our transportation network in the most efficient manner.”