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Manchester to trial smart traffic lights to reduce road congestion

Manchester will trial an AI traffic light system, which provides quick data analysis, to improve traffic flow

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Academics from the University of Huddersfield will soon be trialling artificial intelligence (AI) for traffic lights in Manchester as a way to improve traffic flow and reduce air pollution.

Government-backed Innovate UK has funded more than £850,000 towards the project, which was predominantly developed by Lee McCluskey, a professor at the university. It will be tested later in 2017, with a review of the results in March 2018.

The system, known as SimplifAI, can analyse data faster than human operators, which means timings for traffic signals will be better optimised. Therefore, traffic flow will be improved, especially when unusual circumstances have caused congestion. A reduction in congestion will also improve air quality.

Drivers around the Old Trafford stadium car park will benefit from this technology on match days, with long queues being a current problem for them.

“Under normal conditions, existing traffic management and traffic signals are not too bad,” said McCluskey. “But it is very difficult for managers when normal conditions aren’t met – for example, when Man United are playing at Old Trafford, or when an inner ring road link is closed due to an accident. There might also be bottlenecks that occur relatively frequently and you want to try to alleviate them.

Artificial intelligence is providing a tool for transport operators so they can deal with extremely complicated situations quickly. In just a few seconds it can produce strategies composed of hundreds of different timings at traffic signals,” he added.  

The University of Huddersfield will launch SimplifAI with a number of partners, including Transport for Greater Manchester, FutureEverything and Human Centred Design.

There are also plans to branch out the technology worldwide. Not only will cities have reduced congestion, but it will be easier to integrate driverless cars with the traffic system in the future too.

The artificial intelligence can be enhanced further for the road, as McCluskey believed that in the future, it will be involved varying speed limits, message signals and lane closures.

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