Will Self-Driving Cars Make Traditional Traffic Lights Obsolete? Researchers Say Brace For Major Changes

In a world where technology is rapidly advancing, researchers are now investigating the possibility of smarter vehicles revolutionizing traditional traffic signals, potentially replacing the conventional red, yellow, and green lights.

What Happened: Modern vehicles equipped with features such as GPS could significantly enhance traffic safety and efficiency, and separate studies on this potential shift are being led by researchers from the University of Michigan and North Carolina State University, as per AP News.

Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor at the University of Michigan, is optimistic about introducing a new traffic signal system. “The pace of artificial intelligence progress is very fast, and I think it's coming,” he said.

A team at North Carolina State University, led by Ali Hajbabaie, an associate engineering professor, suggests adding a fourth light — possibly white — to traffic signals, which would indicate when AVs on the road are sufficient to control the traffic flow.

"When we get to the intersection, we stop if it's red and we go if it's green. But if the white light is active, you just follow the vehicle in front of you,” said Hajbabaie.

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However, Hajbabaie admits that this approach would require 40% to 50% of vehicles on the road to be self-driving, which is still years away.

Why It Matters: Traffic lights in the United States have remained largely unchanged for over a century.  The first “municipal traffic control system” debuted in Cleveland in 1914, according to Smithsonian Magazine.  A yellow light was later added by a Detroit traffic officer, solidifying the red-yellow-green format we know today.

However, the potential for autonomous vehicles to revolutionize traffic flow is emerging. Despite this, a study by the American Automobile Association found that 66% of drivers remain apprehensive about self-driving cars, with an additional 24% expressing uncertainty.

Furthermore, a decline in automotive revenue for AI giants like Nvidia and a slowdown in the adoption of autonomous driving features suggests significant hurdles remain before the current traffic light system undergoes a complete overhaul.

Read Next: The ‘Silent’ Billionaires Cashing In On The AI Boom (Besides Nvidia’s Jensen Huang And OpenAI’s Sam Altman)

Photo via Shutterstock

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