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Smart Phone Red Light App

A new smart phone application will help drivers to avoid stopping at the dreaded red lights. Signal Guru is a an app that predicts when a traffic light will change. It advises what speed to do in order to avoid stopping and continue travelling at a steady speed.

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Traffic Flow Improved

Emmanouil Koukoumidis, the scientist who designed the application, says that the stop-and-go pattern created by traffic signals significantly increases fuel consumption. His group wondered how they could help motorists to drive through intersections without having to stop, and how much petrol could be saved by doing this. He also believes that the device will help improve traffic flow.

App Determines Drivers Speed

SignalGuru activates the cameras on a dashboard-mounted smart phone when approaching an intersection, and detects when a signal is set to change from green to red and vice versa. The app then determines what speed the driver needs to go in order to avoid stopping at a red light that is about to change green, or a green light about to turn red. For example, the app will tell a driver: ‘if you drive at 40 km/h you will be able to sail through without stopping’, explained Koukoumidis. He added that the recommended speeds will always be within the speed limit.

The traffic signal information, such as when the light changes, is group sourced by other app users and sent back to SignalGuru, which improves the accuracy.

Fuel Consumption Decreased

While testing the prototype in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Koukoumidis saw a fuel consumption decrease of 20 per cent, which could have a significant impact on the economy and the environment.


The app was also tested in Singapore, where the lights vary depending on traffic volume. Here it was less accurate than in Cambridge, where traffic lights are on a pre-timed system with fixed settings. It still worked, however, with predictions correct within two seconds, says Koukoumidis.

Group sourcing information is the key when it comes to traffic lights because the information is very hard to access from traffic authorities, adds Koukoumidis. Besides, light change intervals are not unified and the information is not always computerised, he says.

30MPH Sign

Possible Safety Concerns

A drawback of the app is the safety concerns that could arise if the signal does not change when it is predicted to. Koukoumidis says that SignalGuru will advise the driver of the status of the traffic light but that he or she should always check that the light has actually changed to green. He says it is similar to following a navigation device, which should not be done blindly.

Industrial Partners to Commercialise

The group is currently looking for industrial partners that will commercialise the software. Before making it available to the public, they also plan to add other safety features, such as limits on deceleration. They may also go further by patenting other useful information that can be captured, such as available parking spaces and gas prices in real-time.

The project was started as part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology's Future Urban Mobility group, with professors Li-Shiuan Peh and Margaret Mantonosi as advisors.

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