Skift Take

Travel reports are revealing that people are going to be spending more time on the road this year than during any other pandemic year. One company is introducing a new technology to make sure people are actually spending that time in transit, not at a traffic light.

With road trips and domestic travel set to boom this summer, everyone is anticipating to see record levels of people on the road in 2022. While traffic jams seem inevitable in response to pent-up travel demand, a new machine-learning and artificial intelligence-based technology, comprised of a network of video and radar sensors, is proposing a solution to traffic congestion.

When traffic management company NoTraffic realized that the traffic light technology used today is severely outdated, it wanted to see if there was a better way of doing things — starting by combining the current hardware with a smarter software platform.

NoTraffic’s new technology system is currently being sold to local governments and their departments of transportation, as they work with traffic engineers in the area to address specific needs of intersections and provide oversight to adjust visual meteorological condition algorithms as needed. The company is privately held and does not disclose financials.

“Most of the roadway algorithms today, while there are some pretty advanced, were developed in the ’80s, and they all are based on history,” said Norman Tutnauer, chief business officer at NoTraffic. “We use artificial intelligence and machine learning to actually understand what’s happening now, not what happened five years ago, which isn’t even relevant to today.”

In the past, over 70 percent of intersections were not connected nor communicating with each other, and thus clueless of the activity happening between streets. Not only do NoTraffic’s cameras detect vehicles from farther distances than existing cameras, but they also provide a real-time communication infrastructure between intersections. As a result, traffic flow monitored by these newer systems moves in the most efficient way possible, bringing forth a more advanced age of traffic infrastructure.

A NoTraffic video sensor analyzes an intersection

NoTraffic has seen their AI system cut down traffic blockages by 50 to 60 percent, with overall travel time being reduced by 40 to 50 percent, according to a client case study. 

The system also has a hand in improving road safety, which, especially during the pandemic, has actually deteriorated dramatically. Due to the obvious preference of socially-distanced forms of transportation, there are more vulnerable users in the roadways, i.e. pedestrians, bicycles, and scooters, who are getting hit more often. Through the improved traffic system, pedestrians are spending less time in vulnerable locations and waiting less time at the intersections.

“Covid changed everything,” said Tutnauer. “It changed traffic patterns, it changed the way people lived, and suddenly, old algorithms are no longer very effective. You can’t depend on them, and this is really the first ‘post-Covid summer’. No one knows what traffic is really going to look like. No one knows how many people are really going to be on the road.”

Unlike past traffic infrastructure, NoTraffic’s systems have no need to be replaced by updated versions. Data is constantly being recalculated, with thousands of simulations running every minute at every intersection and rethinking the traffic signal pattern every fifteen seconds. When a new intersection is incorporated into the network, NoTraffic’s technology begins by gaining awareness of its surroundings, with the first two weeks after sensor installation solely dedicated to data collection.

Most importantly, NoTraffic’s commitment to diminishing traffic congestion also addresses the global effort to reduce emissions, which provides a more realistic reality for sustainable travel. Through their advanced sensors, the technology has learned to prioritize certain types of vehicles that produce higher levels of emissions through their size or model. At an intersection with a lot of heavy traffic, the system makes sure that those vehicles are moving as quickly as possible by actually identifying the type of vehicle and giving them priority.

NoTraffic is continuing to grow the business across the U.S., with upcoming partnerships to be announced in the coming months. As of now, cities in California, Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania have welcomed the NoTraffic system. As the company continues its trial development outside the U.S., it is looking to extend into Western Europe by next year.

The company is also hoping to “future proof” their system by incorporating various types of inter-vehicle communications, which many automobile companies are starting to introduce today. By integrating that technology into their own sensors, the system may be able to facilitate communication within the infrastructure and help drivers deal with all sorts of safety messages, such as warning signs when a vehicle has the potential to run a red light.

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Tags: coronavirus, domestic tourism, domestic travel, emissions, road trips, roads, traffic, travel