App that gets you the green light
RESEARCHERS AT the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been working on a smartphone app that can help drivers avoid getting stuck at red lights and save a considerable amount of time and fuel on their regular commutes.
SignalGuru, as the app is called, uses the camera on your phone to monitor the timings of the lights on your regular routes and can therefore, over time, predict when they will change. The system then gives you a set speed to drive at, which should see you sail through the junction just before the amber light is triggered. For unfamiliar routes, SignalGuru relies on crowdsourcing – taking a feed from all users of the app to compile a database on as many junctions as possible.
Speaking to Reuters, Emmanouil Koukoumidis, the scientist behind the app, said, “The stop-and-go pattern that traffic signals create increases fuel consumption significantly. We wondered how we could help drivers cruise through signal light intersections without stopping, and how much we could save on gas and improve the flow of vehicles.”
According to MIT, testing of the system in Cambridge, the home town of the university, has seen fuel savings of about 20 per cent on a given route, a saving that would prove significant enough to individual drivers, but more significant again for the environment as a whole if calculated across a mass of vehicles.
The system has also been tested in Singapore, where the traffic lights run not on a timer but according to traffic density and flow.
While that makes it harder for the app to predict the next light change, Koukoumidis says that a significant fuel and time saving can still be made in such environments.
There remain some question marks about the system, though. The timings of signals can be altered without any prior warning, so the spectre of a group of SignalGuru-equipped vehicles sailing casually towards a traffic light that has been altered is a very real worry.
Koukoumidis was quick to point out that drivers still need to be responsible for their own safety and that of others, and need to exercise common sense when approaching any junction. But given that we have all seen drivers blindly and faithfully follow their sat-navs the wrong way up one-way streets and even into rivers, that must surely be a concern.
Not to mention that using SignalGuru, or any other in-car-assistance app on a smartphone, could soon be against the law in many countries, as distracted driving (and most especially the use of phones within cars) is being heavily targeted. Indeed, Brian Farrell, communications officer for the Road Safety Authority in Ireland, said, “Mobile phone use is the drink-driving of today.”
So while there may well be an app for something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that will be a good thing. Good driving doesn’t start on your phone.