A World without Traffic Lights

Can Cities Really Get This Smart?

In a world where everything’s connected, Ford’s vision just might work. The car-maker envisages a future in which connected cars could coordinate their own movements, passing through intersections without ever having to stop. It’s a silky smooth, futuristic concept.

Ford points out that traffic lights are the cause of 60 percent of road accidents, and that safety can be vastly improved by implementing new technologies. To demonstrate this, Ford showed off its vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication system on the streets of Milton Keynes in the UK. The technology alerts drivers to slow down or accelerate to avoid a collision with cars approaching from other directions.

Ford’s Intersection Priority Management technology is being tested as part of the government-funded UK Autodrive programme, which aims to help drivers avoid unnecessary stops at junctions, easing traffic flow and increasing safety and efficiency. The project also showcased other technologies including Intersection Collision Warning, which warns drivers of potential accidents when approaching an intersection, and Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory, which helps cars to synchronise with nearby traffic lights.

For the trial, cars equipped with V2V technology share their location, direction of travel and speed, and software analyses the trajectory of nearby vehicles and suggests an optimum speed for each car to negotiate the intersection without stopping. The vehicles have drivers behind the wheel, but the goal is that autonomous cars will one day benefit from the technology.

Other automotive companies are also testing communication systems for connected cars. Honda, for example, is trialling a Smart Intersection system in Marysville, Ohio that uses vehicle-to-everything technology (V2X) to connect cars with cameras mounted on buildings and posts. The company believes the better vantage point of cameras will allow drivers to virtually “see” around corners and avoid accidents.

Systems like the ones being demonstrated by Ford and Honda highlight the promise of V2V and V2X communication in creating a world where cars are more aware of each other and their environment, enabling intelligent cooperation and collaboration on the roads.

To implement this intriguing smart city concept on a large scale, the infrastructure will have to be in place. We don’t doubt that the enabling factors are all on the drawing board to bring this to fruition, but it will take a great deal of coordination between municipalities, car-makers, network operators, insurance companies and, most importantly, acceptance by consumers, to get this show on the road.

Nonetheless, Ford should be applauded for this vision. As we’ve consistently stated, smart city and autonomous driving initiatives need to be considered in unison given the need for cars to seamlessly interact with their surroundings, and vice versa. Connectivity is a crucial component that much of the automotive industry continues to overlook as the first generation of self-driving vehicles is delivered exclusively using on-board cameras and sensors. Fifth-generation networks will be the ingredient that augments that capability and better integrates vehicles with their environment.