The intersection that thinks

In the future, when we steer our vehicles through city traffic, we will not be communicating solely with other cars, but also exchanging data with intelligent intersections and traffic guidance systems.

Right now, more than half of the global population lives in towns and cities. By 2030, the population will have grown by one billion people and the traffic that is already swelling uncontrollably in urban centers will be even heavier.  As a result, road safety will become a key challenge during the next decade. The current situation is shown by a live counter on the website of the World Health Organization (WHO). Whereas the number of accident victims has decreased steadily in Germany and other industrialized nations, it has risen markedly in poorer countries. Driving is becoming ever safer due to advanced safety systems and high safety standards. But what innovations are there in urban traffic planning?

Intelligent intersections for the smart city

Designing urban intersections is more or less the top discipline in traffic planning, and a city can easily have over 1,000 of them. These are the points where all the road users meet: cars, buses and street cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, electric scooters and pedestrians arrive from different directions and at different speeds. And in the future self-driving vehicles will be added to the mix. This harbors all kinds of dangers. The traffic signals change and one driver wants to accelerate through the amber light, while another slams on the brakes. This frequently results in rear-end collisions. In addition, there are many critical situations associated with turning, such as when turning left across oncoming traffic and possibly not spotting hidden vehicles until too late; or when turning right, if there’s a cyclist or a pedestrian either in the blind spot or obscured by other road users.

Hundreds of thousands of accidents could be avoided simply if not only modern cars but also intersections could detect their surroundings. The first intelligent intersections are currently undergoing trials in everyday conditions in Columbus, Ohio, and in Walnut Creek, California. The “intelligent intersection” is equipped with LiDAR, radar and camera sensors at its corners. Powerful sensor fusion algorithms create a detailed image of the environment – at all times of day, even in bad weather. The system recognizes every road user within a 360° radius and transmits the position and movement of relevant objects to all vehicles within range which have the necessary car-to-X technology. Standard Dedicated Short Range Communication, LTE or (in the future) 5G enable information to be transmitted between the intersection and connected vehicles within a fraction of a second. This can warn drivers about red traffic lights, for example, or a speedy cyclist in the blind spot when they want to turn right – an important milestone in improving inner-city traffic for all users.

(Stage photo: © Continental)

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