A German city will let an AI control traffic lights

In Bad Hersfeld, an AI will soon be able to create “green corridors” to facilitate the movement of emergency services.

Traffic lights save lives, that’s undeniable. But in some situations, the vehicle buildups they generate can also be a problem. One thinks in particular of the emergency services; the few seconds lost by an ambulance or a fire engine to avoid a red light on the way to an intervention can make a significant difference once there. To remedy this situation, the German city of Bad Hersfeld has chosen to bet on artificial intelligence.

If the idea reminds you of something, it’s probably that it had already germinated in France some time ago. Cédric Villani, mathematician of genius rewarded with a Fields Medal, had already proposed it on several occasions; it was notably part of his program during his foray into politics (see the Institut Montaigne website).

AI-managed “green corridors”

The German system incorporates some of the concepts mentioned by Villani. The municipality intends to launch a AI-based system which can regulate traffic automatically by taking control of traffic lights. The idea is to create green corridors », that is to say routes without the slightest red light. The emergency services will thus be able to arrive on the scene in less than ten minutes in all situations. Even when traffic is particularly heavy.

To achieve this, this system will have access to a very large amount of traffic data. They will come from surveillance cameras and other sensors deployed for the occasion. All this information will be exploited in real time by a complex algorithm ; this will determine the fastest route, and select intersections that could temporarily be part of a green corridor.

However, this approach would have the effect of blocking part of the traffic around these axes. To prevent the city from turning into a giant traffic jam with each intervention, the algorithm will still be put to use. It is he who will decide when to restart circulation, and he will be in charge of smooth traffic as quickly as possible to prevent traffic jams from settling permanently around the corridors.

A technology that could be democratized

This system will soon be tested in a pilot project with the local fire brigade. They will be responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of the system in the company of experts. The latter will also analyze the consequences on the rest of the traffic; it would be a shame if the opening of a green corridor on one side of the city turns into a traffic jam for other emergency services on the other end.

This is not the first time that Bad Hersfeld has adopted technologies of this kind; the municipality has even built up a rather flattering reputation as a “smart city”. TheMayor explains, for example, that it already has a smart municipal lighting system that can be controlled directly by citizens through a collaborative application.

And she would like to be emulated; all of these technologies, including the AI ​​described in this article, will be provided free of charge to other municipalities upon request. Currently, there are already a few examples in the UK or the US, for example. It will be interesting to follow the evolution of the German system; today, this is still exceptional, but in the long term, it is very likely that comparable technologies will gradually arrive in many other cities — including yours!

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