An app that helps drivers avoid red traffic signals

Updated 18 September 2012
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An app that helps drivers avoid red traffic signals

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a system that uses dashboard-mounted smartphones to help drivers avoid red lights and reduce fuel consumption.
The app called SignalGuru predicts when a traffic signal is about to change, and the speed that should be driven when approaching an intersection in order to cruise through without stopping.
“The stop-and-go pattern that traffic signals create increases fuel consumption significantly,” said Emmanouil Koukoumidis, the scientist behind the app.
“We wondered how we could help drivers cruise through signal light intersections without stopping, and how much we could save on gas and improve the flow of vehicles,” he added. When approaching an intersection, the camera on a driver’s dashboard-mounted smart phone is activated, which detects when a signal transitions from red to green and vice versa.
Using this information, the app determines the speed that should be driven to avoid stopping at a red light on the cusp of turning green, or a green light just shy of turning red.
“It tells the drivers that ‘if you drive at 30 miles per hour then you’ll be able to cruise through without stopping,’” explained Koukoumidis, adding that the speed recommended is always within legal speed limits.
Information on the traffic signals, such as when they change, is crowdsourced by other users of the app and then sent back to SignalGuru to improve the accuracy of its predictions. Koukoumidis said that while testing their prototype in Cambridge, Massachusetts they saw a 20 percent decrease in fuel consumption, which could have a significant monetary and environmental impact.
“In the USwe’re spending 1/3 of the annual energy consumption for transportation and a big part of that is vehicles,” he explained. The system was also tested in Singapore, where the traffic lights vary depending on the volume of traffic.
“It was less accurate compared to Cambridge where signals were pre-timed and had fixed settings but it would still work reasonably well with predictions accurate within two seconds,” Koukoumidis said.


Crowdsourcing information about signal lights is necessary, he said, because this data is difficult to access from traffic authorities, which are not unified and do not always have the information computerized.
But this could also pose safety concerns, for example, a signal not changing when predicted due to inaccuracies.
“SignalGuru will advise the driver when to arrive at the intersection but the driver should always check for himself that the light indeed turned green,” he said, noting that it’s similar to how a driver does not follow a navigation device blindly.
Currently the group is looking for industrial partners to commercialize the software. They also plan to implement other safety features, such as thresholds on deceleration, before making it accessible to the public.
Koukoumidis said that going forward their patented approach could also be used to capture other information about the real world, such as available parking spaces or real-time gas prices.
” are computer eyes looking out into the street that can capture all sorts of information,” he said.
The research project was launched as part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology’s Future Urban Mobility group, in which professors Margaret Mantonosi and Li-Shiuan Peh were advisers.


Reminder: Your smartphone is likely tracking your location

Updated 7 min 41 sec ago
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Reminder: Your smartphone is likely tracking your location

PARIS: A new lawsuit accusing Google of tracking people’s locations against their will has served as a reminder that every movement of most smartphone users is being recorded, often without their knowledge.
The California man who filed the suit claims that the tech behemoth continued to track the whereabouts of Android smartphone users even after they turned off “location history.”
But the history of geolocation and the privacy issues it raises are as old as the mobile phone itself.
Before smartphones arrived more than a decade ago, it was still possible to use geolocation. Mobile phones constantly connect to local antenna towers, and by triangulating the signals the user can be found — as Jeff Goldblum illustrated in the 1996 movie “Independence Day.”
However smartphones brought about a far simpler way to track people: GPS.
After the release of the first iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2007, GPS — Global Positioning System using satellites — became prevalent, and it is now included on all smartphones.
Most apps now use location tracking, and not just for obvious purposes like maps and transport. It’s also used for dating, food delivery and gaming, such as Pokemon Go, which became hugely if briefly popular across the world in 2016.
As the popularity of apps using geolocations grows, so does their money-making potential.
For example, when tourists use their phone to explore, they can be targeted with advertising not just from the country they are in but also the city and even the street they are standing on.
A 2014 study by CNIL, the French government’s techonology consumer protection body, showed that between a quarter to a third of apps had access to the phone’s location.
By 2017, a study by Yale University found that three quarters of Android apps contained trackers — usually containing advertising.
The CNIL study also found that some apps tracked the phone’s location more than a million times over a three-month period — accessing the information about once per minute.
The new Google lawsuit is far from the first time privacy concerns have been raised over geolocation. In 2011 fellow tech giant Apple faced a lawsuit over location tracking on its ubiquitous iPhones and iPads.
And there are also national security concerns.
Last month, researchers found that the fitness app Polar had revealed sensitive data on military and intelligence personnel from 69 countries. The app later disabled the function.
Just months before another health app, Strava, was found to have showed potentially sensitive information about US and allied forces around the world.
But the problem includes apps that don’t even need to track the users’ location.
Some simple flashlight apps have been discovered to have been secretly sharing location information.