Intelligent traffic lights that detect the passage of emergency vehicles and regulate the urban layout by giving them priority.
The project is by Ford, which has experimented with Connected Traffic Light Technology, a technology that exploits the connectivity between vehicles and infrastructures to communicate with traffic lights and which allows the automatic activation of the green to facilitate the transit of ambulances, firefighters and law enforcement vehicles.
The goal is to make rescue more timely and “pave the way” for operators, taking into account how few moments, in emergency situations, can make a difference. In fact, according to a recent German study, the survival rates of road accident victims can be improved by up to 40% if treatment is provided even just four minutes faster than the average.
The smart traffic light system could also help reduce the risk of an accident caused by first responders if they are forced to go through a red light: “Whether it’s a fire engine or an ambulance driving to the scene of an accident, the last thing you want is for rescuers to get stuck among other vehicles waiting at traffic lights, ”said Martin Sommer, Ford of Europe’s automation research engineer.
The trial lasted two years, from March 2020 to March 2022, and was conducted as part of the Corridor for New Mobility Aachen-Düsseldorf (ACCorD) project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport and supported by RWTH University Aachen , Vodafone, Straßen.NRW (the road authority for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) and the city of Aachen, Germany.
How smart traffic lights work
The technology was tested by the Blue Oval house on a road with eight consecutive traffic lights in Aachen and on two sections with three consecutive traffic lights just outside the city, all set up by the project partners.
The test car, a Ford Kuga Plug-In Hybrid, equipped with an on-board unit (to communicate with the infrastructure) and a hardware for quick check (to connect to the software prototype in the vehicle), it behaves, depending on the different test scenarios, alternatively as an ambulance and as a passenger vehicle.
To test a rescue situation for an emergency, the test vehicle indicated at the traffic light to turn green. Once the car crossed the intersection, the traffic lights returned to its standard operation.
During the daily use tests, the test vehicle received information on the timing of the red-to-green and green-to-red traffic lights. Ford’s Adaptive Cruise Control technology then adapted the car’s speed to help ensure the light was green as more cars passed.
At a red light, the speed of the vehicle was reduced well before the intersection, for example from 50 km / h to 30 km / h, in order to time the approach and allow the car to arrive at the traffic light when the green light was activated.
Future applications in a “smart city”
For vehicles encountering a red light, the technology could therefore further help, by minimizing hard braking and waiting times at the lights. In fact, the vehicle is able to receive traffic light information long before arriving at the intersection, with the possibility of slowing down in advance.
But how do traffic lights actually exchange information? Communication between vehicles and traffic lights is enabled by C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) technology, a unified platform that connects vehicles to the road infrastructure, to other vehicles and to other road users.
It is no coincidence that the experimentation is part of a larger project that involves the experimentation of automated and connected vehicles and infrastructures connected to the network in motorway, urban and rural areas. In the future, in a context of “smart” cities in which infrastructures communicate with each other and with cars (and so would cars and public transport) through the network, traffic lights enabled to send all information on timing to approaching vehicles of red and green, could also help reduce congestion on the roads.
“The exchange of data between cars, emergency vehicles and traffic lights in real time using the latest mobile phone technology makes road traffic safer and more efficient – confirmed Michael Reinartz of Vodafone Germany – intelligent traffic light control helps save lives human beings, helping every second to reduce unnecessary waiting times and CO2 emissions “.