• Arne Mortensen

Smart traffic: is it finally just around the corner?

For many years, since auto-focus camera technology became common place (decades ago), I started my wait for a smart intersection. I feel like a fool waiting for a light at an empty intersection, particularly late at night, but the worst of it is the cost to society of sitting at a light for no reason except proper respect for orderly behavior.

A smart intersection would look down each roadway, assess density and speed and conditions, coming up with a sound mathematical algorithm which would avoid many of the silliness we see with the current Neanderthal lights. Furthermore, during emergencies or events, the smart intersection easily could be part of a large mathematical grid that could, with a human at a central control, set a plan in motion to control the traffic stream over an area of many networked intersections. And more, emergency planners could have a variety of canned plans for various identified possible emergencies at their fingertips. Also, consider what might be done to help re-route traffic by proper sequencing when an intersection is seen to be impassable (failed light? Accident?)

The technology for this has been available for decades, but there has been little to no progress. Why that is, is an interesting question. Principally, there was no significant path to convert this idea into money. One would expect that a civic minded government would have taken this on, but governments primarily chase after money and power, and this effort was unlikely to yield government revenue. Let me remind you that red light traffic cameras were developed because ... there was money to be had by the government.

What about the private sector? Same problem, money, but compounded with regulatory quagmire (government agencies want their cut) and tort hell. I wrote a strawman proposal on this many years ago and presented it to a successful entrepreneur friend of mine; he is the one who pointed out the monetizing problem with the idea.

But, progress is inexorable. Today I see this very well-done video and, while I appreciate the sense of loss for a life style of independent action, I look forward to these expected solutions to traffic seen in the aforementioned video. The private sector finally figured out how to make money on this issue. [BTW, yes, it is true that in an engineering class at Harvey Mudd College, I stood at an intersection and measured traffic delays. The video is spot on.]

I can’t help but belabor the following two learning points from this harangue:

  • By exercising a bit of individual thoughtfulness, on the road in this case, a small and trivial price to pay, we could better everyone, including ourselves. That is as close to a free benefit as you can get.

  • Government does not innovate. It is motivated by control and money not well-being. The smaller we make government and the more we focus it on defense of life and property, the better it will be for all of mankind.

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