The pioneering technology is being tested ahead of trials of driverless vehicles
A device which switches all red traffic lights to green has been launched in Newcastle to prevent cars from ever needing to stop.
The pioneering technology is being tested ahead of trials of driverless vehicles, which would be linked to traffic lights so that fully-automated convoys could pass quickly through urban areas.
The new gadget, which attaches to the windscreen like a Sat Nav, detects traffic lights from around 100 metres away and requests priority so that they switch to green as soon as the car arrives. It also tells drivers of the speed they should be driving to make sure they always hit a green light in the event of traffic.
Currently the ground-breaking system is being trialled by the North East Ambulance patient transport service, who are hoping it will improve safety, create a smoother ride for patients and cut fuel bills.
Although it is only being tested in a small area of Newcastle City Centre, developers from Newcastle University are planning to role it out across the city in coming years, and are hoping to fit goods lorries and taxis with the gadget to ease congestion and cut pollution.
And the Highways Agency is considering a scheme to allow driverless freight vehicles to travel the six miles between Nissan in Sunderland and Port of Tyne at night, using the new technology to pass quickly through a series of green lights.
For the first wave of the pilot, 20 traffic lights have been fitted with the Compass4D technology at key junctions in Newcastle City Centre and fourteen vehicles have been equipped with the priority technology.
Phil Blythe, Professor of Transport at Newcastle University said: “This is the first step towards driverless cars. If we can manage the traffic better and get cars talking to traffic lights and each other on the road, then that is a big step towards automation.
“One of the key things we are going to see over the next few years is platooning, particularly of freight, and when a platoon hits the traffic lights, it will go straight through, to avoid being split up.
“I am pretty certain that we will see driverless cars on the roads within the next decade. We have already got cars which have lane sensors to stop drifting, cruise control, assisted braking and cornering. So the car does a lot of the driving already.”
Ray King, manager of Urban Traffic Management Control centre based at Newcastle University, has been monitoring the new system from a series of CCTV cameras since it launched at the beginning of March.
“We’re trying to make sure that it is not making the traffic worse for other users. There would be no point doing this if it mean the roads were a nightmare for the cars that weren’t fitted with it. But so far it doesn’t seem to be causing any problems.
“It’s early days, but some ambulance drivers have said it has cut journey times by around 10 per cent.
“The NHS vehicles are transporting patients to hospital for treatment and they don’t want to be held up in traffic unnecessarily, delaying appointments for other patients and wasting taxpayer’s money.
“If we can speed up their journey, giving them priority at lights where appropriate, then it not only reduces fuel bills and delays but also improves patient care.”
Paul Liversidge, North East Ambulance Service Chief Operating Officer, added: “This new system has the potential to further improve how efficiently we run the service, ensuring we get to our patients on time and they get to their appointments on time and reducing our carbon footprint.”
Newcastle University is also trialling the technology in its electric cars which are fitted with eye trackers and a bio-belt to monitor driver behaviour when using the device, and make sure it is not a distraction.
There are also plans in the pipeline to allow older people to carry smart cards which would link up to the traffic light system and give them more time to cross the road at pedestrian crossings.
This article was written by Sarah Knapton Science Editor from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.