London Smart Traffic Lights

London is about to get smarter, and more bike friendly. The UK capital is testing a new adaptive-traffic control system that detects cyclists and adjusts traffic lights using sensor data. The smart traffic signals use both radar and thermal imaging to automatically sense how many cyclists are waiting at a particular intersection. Then, based on volume, the system will adjust the length of red and green lights to ensure smooth flow. At rush hour, the green light will be longer, and late at night it will be shorter.

From 2011 to 2021, London’s population is expected to grow by a million, hitting 9 million before New York and approaching 10 million by 2030. Given those demographic projections, additional public transport at peak times will be needed for more than 600,000 extra passengers in London by 2031. As cycling is already one of the fastest ways to get across the city, innovation like smart traffic lights is key to keeping London moving efficiently.

“Once again, London leads the way as we host world-first trials of technology that has the potential to bring significant benefits to cyclists” — Boris Johnson, London Mayor

Few people will dispute the fact that traffic congestion is an urban cancer in our cities. Commuters in those cities are used to those inefficiencies. They expect and even plan for delays, particularly at rush hour. For many, the commuting time simply equals wasted time. Recent case studies have found that up to 70 percent of commuting time today is “buffer time”, that extra time wasted in traffic jams or waiting for the bus or train to arrive.

Hopefully, cities have become the locus of more experimentation with Internet of Things (IoT) technology, through so-called smart city initiatives. One of the great economic potential in the use of IoT could actually come from managing traffic flow in cities. Overall, we estimate that reducing the buffer in cities across the world could have an economic impact of more than $60 billion per year.

Sebastien Chalmeton is the founder and CEO of Mighty Things, a global strategy and innovation company designed for the connected world. We solve business problems at the intersection of digital innovation, mobility, wearable tech and the Internet of Things.

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