An app that helps drivers avoid red traffic signals

Updated 18 September 2012
0

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.


Battle lines drawn as EU court weighs fate of gene-edited crops

Updated 20 July 2018
0

Battle lines drawn as EU court weighs fate of gene-edited crops

  • The European Union has long restricted the use of genetically modified organisms widely adopted around the world
  • The first wave of gene-edited crops may involve removing harmful elements from food
LONDON: Gene editing in agriculture takes center stage next Wednesday when Europe’s highest court rules in a case that could determine the fate of the technology that is already making waves in the field of medicine.
The European Union has long restricted the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) widely adopted around the world, but there is legal uncertainty as to whether modern gene editing of crops should fall under the same strict GMO rules.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will rule whether the use of genetic mutation, or mutagenesis, which is now exempt from GMO rules, should differentiate between techniques that have been used for decades and the new gene-editing technology.
The biotech industry argues that much of gene editing is effectively little different to the mutagenesis that occurs naturally or is induced by radiation — a standard plant breeding method since the 1950s.
But environmentalists, anti-GM groups and farmers concerned about the potential environmental and health impacts of all genetically engineered products fear that allowing gene editing would usher in a new era of “GMO 2.0” via the backdoor.
Gene editing with the CRISPR/Cas9 tool and other techniques has the potential to make hardier and more nutritious crops — as well as offering drug companies new ways to fight human disease.
US biotech firm Calyxt, for example, has gene edited soybeans to produce healthier oil with no trans fats and it is growing 17,000 acres of its new design across the US Midwest this year.
Big agrochemical specialists such as Germany’s Bayer and US firm DowDuPont are also stepping up investment in the technology.
The case before the ECJ was brought by a group of French agricultural associations that want the existing EU exemption for plant varieties obtained via mutagenesis to be restricted to long-standing conventional techniques.
While older GMO technology typically adds new DNA to a crop or animal, gene editing can cause a mutation by changing a few pieces of DNA code. It works with great speed and precision, like the find-and-replace function on a word processor.
“Anything you can do by standard mutagenesis you can do 10 or maybe 50 times quicker,” said Johnathan Napier, who is leading a trial at Rothamsted Research which has involved the sowing of the first gene-edited crops in Britain.
He said the first wave of gene-edited crops may involve removing harmful elements from food, such as developing peanuts without peanut allergens or castor bean oil without ricin toxin.
But critics say the technology is not yet proven safe — an argument that may have gained weight this week after research suggested gene editing can cause risky collateral DNA damage.
So far, the signs are that the court may lean toward the biotech industry’s view. ECJ advocate general Michal Bobek advised in January that organisms could be exempt from GMO rules if they did not have added foreign DNA.
The advocate general’s view is not binding but is usually followed by ECJ judges.
John Brennan, secretary general of the biotech industry group EuropaBio, believes gene-edited crops will bring consumer and environmental benefits, as well as keeping Europe at the forefront of a technology important for jobs and growth.
“A clearer regulatory status is essential for communicating and understanding the opportunities that these tools and products present,” he said.
The first wave of gene-edited crops involves removing potentially harmful elements, such as the allergens in peanuts or ricin toxin in castor bean oil, said Napier at Rothmsted.
Environmental groups see things very differently.
“We’re talking about genetic engineering and that should be regulated under GMO law,” said Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace.
Friends of the Earth, which helped bring the original case in France, contends that failure to regulate gene editing could cause permanent damage to Europe’s food sector.
Some retail groups that have been working to produce and market non-GMO food have also expressed concern.
Currently, strict rules mean only one GM crop, a variety of maize, is grown in Europe and while the EU allows the import of others they are exclusively used as animal feed.