How smart are “smart signals” today?
At Flow Labs, when we talk about using AI to update traffic signal timings, the most common question we hear is “Don’t they already do that automatically like in ‘The Italian Job’?”. Our answer is (1) that was a terrible reboot of a British classic and (2) no, the vast majority of signals are retimed manually.
The second most common question we get asked is “Why don’t you just make them smart by putting lots of sensors at the intersection and letting the hardware retime the lights automatically?”. The short answer is that it’s being done already, and it doesn’t work that well. These real-time systems are commonly known as Adaptive Traffic Control Systems (ATCS) — they are what people first think of when they hear the term “smart signals”. Despite the technology being available for over 30 years, of the 350,000+ intersections in the US today, ATCSs have been installed at less than 3% of them.