March 30, 2023

Traffic lights may receive a fourth light which will be white

With the evolution of cars, the introduction of autonomous driving and other safety technologies, traffic rules will also have to adapt, evolve. As such, the traditional traffic light as we know it, with red, yellow and green light, can be “updated” and given another light, which has a new purpose!

Image of a traffic light that manages autonomous car crossings

The Semaphore, also known as a light signal, was first used on December 9, 1868 in London. Inspired by the railroad, an engineer designed the signal with two movable arms that were activated by moving cables from a tower.

This unit contained two gas lamps with one red and one green light. It did not last long, since on January 2, 1869, due to an accident, it exploded causing the death of an authority agent. It was removed and a traffic light was not installed again until August 1914, which occurred in Cleveland, in what is believed to be the first traffic light in its current form.

More than 150 years later, light signals as we see them on the roads may have their days numbered. This is because the evolution of cars will also require updating this important road sign.

According to engineers from North Carolina State University (IEEE), in the US, in the future, traffic lights will be able to rely on fourth white light warning drivers to follow the self-driving car in front of you.

A red light still means you have to stop. Green lights will still mean you should go ahead. And the white lights will tell human drivers to just follow the car in front of them.

Engineer Ali Hajbabaie said on the American university's website.

Computer simulations have shown that the four-light traffic light significantly improves intersection travel time and reduces fuel consumption.

And, to be clear, the color of the "white light" doesn't matter. The important thing is that there is a sign clearly recognizable by drivers.

Added Hajbabaie.

This white light is activated when enough autonomous cars approach an intersection, allowing the vehicles to communicate wirelessly with each other and with the computer that controls the traffic signals.

According to the simulations, from 10% of the presence of autonomous vehicles, significant improvements in traffic at intersections are observed.

According to the simulations, the improvements in traffic flow start small, but become significant when the number of autonomous vehicles reaches 10% of the total traffic at a white-phase intersection. As the percentage of autonomous vehicles increases, so do the benefits.

Even if only 10% of vehicles at a white-phase intersection are autonomous, delays can be reduced by 3%. When 30% of vehicles are autonomous, delays are reduced by 10.7%.

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