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Telegraph to get 'smart' traffic signals

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Telegraph to get 'smart' traffic signals

David Shepardson / The Detroit News

Traverse City -- The Michigan Department of Transportation will unveil "smart traffic signals" on a five-mile stretch of Telegraph Road this fall -- a move to smooth traffic flow along the busy Oakland County thoroughfare.

The signals, stretching from Nine Mile to 14 Mile roads, will alert drivers of next-generation vehicles about coming red lights and tell them to slow down or speed up to avoid stopping, said Kirk Steudle, director of MDOT.

"In this case, the traffic signal sends out a beacon that says, 'I'm green and I'm going to be green for 20 seconds,' " Steudle said. "The car might say on the dashboard, 'if you go 44 or 42 miles an hour, you will make all the lights.' "

While smart signals are being piloted elsewhere in the country, the five miles along Telegraph will the longest stretch being tested, he said. The speed limit on that stretch is 45 miles per hour.

The signals, which include a radio in the controller, could also help drivers avoid collisions at busy intersections, he said.

More than 100,000 motorists a day travel that stretch of Telegraph, and its intersection at 12 Mile has been labeled one of the state's most dangerous.

The technology is part of a more than $40 million reconstruction of the roadway.

Automakers plan to use the stretch on Telegraph for testing prototype vehicles that can communicate with the signals.

Nissan Motor Co., which has an engineering center in Farmington Hills, and Chrysler Group LLC are both researching the system and plan to use the stretch for study. Chrysler has a test fleet of 300 vehicles that will be able to pick up the signals along Telegraph.

Steudle said he would like to see state and federal agencies upgrade signals as they replace them -- because it could take years to get enough signals in place to make the system work.

Michigan has 3,000 traffic signals just on state roads.

Under normal conditions, some signals might not get changed for 15 or 20 years.

"As we change out lights, these (new smart signals) should be the standard," Steudle said.

Either automakers or governments would have to make a move.

"It's the chicken and the egg -- do we spend the money first to put them in place -- because there aren't cars to listen to them -- or do they install the systems in cars?" Steudle said.

Another advantage for motorists is saving gasoline. Motorists spend billions of dollars idling in traffic annually.

Facing hurdles

IBM Corp. is developing a system that could send a signal to the engine to turn off at a red light. Louis Lombardo, one of the authors of a 2007 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report on intersection crashes that looked at the smart signal technology, said there are many hurdles.

"Will the nation invest in this technology at every stop signal and the more than 300,000 traffic signals?" Lombardo asked, saying the technology has been largely untested.

Steudle and other state officials last year took part in a demonstration of a smart traffic system in Manhattan, where a vehicle was outfitted to "listen" to the signal, at a conference on intelligent transportation systems.

"As the vehicle drove at this red light, the car would not go through it," Steudle said, "because the car was receiving the information that the light was red -- and it stopped on the stop bar."

Such systems are already on some vehicles -- called forward-collision warning systems -- that alert drivers that they may be facing a crash. In some instances, a vehicle will slow automatically if a driver doesn't react.

Intersections dangerous

Crashes at intersections account for nearly a quarter of road deaths annually.

NHTSA said 7,200 deaths were intersection-related in 2008, along with 733,000 injury crashes. Its 2007 report said intersection crashes cost $97 billion annually.

Ford Motor Co. has a test project with a smart intersection it has been researching -- a slightly different model.

Ford's smart intersection project communicates with test vehicles to warn drivers of potential collisions -- when a vehicle is about to run through a red light, for example. The intersection is outfitted with technology that monitors traffic signal status, GPS data and digital maps to assess potential hazards, and then transmits warning information to specially equipped vehicles.

"For vehicle-to-vehicle communications to be effective, common standards will need to be established for all automakers to follow," said Mike Shulman, technical leader in Ford's Active Safety Research and Advanced Engineering.

"Our research is helping to identify the types of warnings that drivers find to be effective and easier to understand."

Automakers are also researching vehicle-to-vehicle technologies -- to help them avoid one another. Ultimately, it may prove easier to improve vehicles that the nation's roughly 350,000 traffic signals.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100802/AUTO01/8020417/1148/auto01/Telegraph-to-get--smart--traffic-signals#ixzz0vXxPYTFD

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