Google turns its AI on traffic lights to reduce pollution

Poorly timed traffic lights are not only a waste of time, but also a waste of precious minutes. At a press conference yesterday, Kate Brandt, Google's chief sustainability officer, pointed out that they are also harmful to the environment and public safety. The company unveiled a slew of sustainability-centric products and updates today that aim to help users make more informed, environmentally friendly decisions. It has also been working on an AI project to improve traffic lights efficiency and reduce pollution.
Brandt stated that when your car stops at an intersection, it can cause wasted fuel and more street-level pollution. Google's new project will use AI to calculate and measure traffic conditions, timing and efficiency at intersections in cities. Brandt stated that one of the company’s AI research teams was able to accurately calculate these data and train an algorithm to optimize inefficient intersections.

In partnership with the municipalities Haifa, Beer-Sheva, and the Israel National Roads Company, Google has conducted pilots in four locations in Israel so far. According to the company, it has seen a 10-20 percent decrease in fuel consumption and delays at intersections. Google did not share information on average daily traffic at these intersections. However, a clip of the event showed a busy intersection. Google also did not explain how the AI would integrate with existing systems or the lights at specific intersections.

Brandt stated that although it's still early days, the promising results have prompted us to start new pilots in Rio de Janeiro, and we are also talking with other cities across the globe. Although we are likely to be years away from AI managing our traffic intersections, it is an important step towards the vision for completely smart cities that the sector has been working on for many years.

Although the idea of letting AI determine when vehicles can stop or go may seem unsettling and risky at best, it is worth the effort to improve traffic light efficiency. With rigorous testing and safety precautions in place, we might be able reduce significant amounts of fuel waste and other polluting substances.