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.


Book review: The story of a trader who made it big in the scramble for Africa

Updated 19 September 2018
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Book review: The story of a trader who made it big in the scramble for Africa

  • A must-read for anyone interested in real-life adventure
  • This biography transports the reader into his extraordinary world with its exotic cast of characters

BEIRUT: There was a time when, before the advent of a synthetic substitute, piano keys, billiard balls, combs and handles for cutlery were all made of ivory. Arab traders were interested in the lucrative trade to cater to the huge demand for ivory in Europe, America and the Far East.

Enter Tippu Tip whose first journey took place in 1855 and went on to establish him as a highly- successful ivory merchant.

His name is not easy to forget — it has an inner rhythm, a musical sound that stays with you and yet few know the truth about the iconic Omani trader whose life story turned into the stuff of legends.

Born in Zanzibar as Hamed bin Mohammed Al-Murjabi, Tippu Tip’s father, Mohammed bin Juma Al-Murjabi, was originally from Muscat and particularly proud of his mother’s ancestry.



Author Stuart Laing came across Tippu Tip while doing research for a dissertation on the abolition of the slave trade in East Africa and the Indian Ocean during the 19th century. “The aim of this book is to introduce the reader, through the life of Tippu Tip, to the extraordinary world of East Africa in the second half of the 19th century,” Laing wrote.

During that period, known as “The Race for Africa” and the “Scramble for Africa,” Europeans and Arabs opened up vast tracts of territory for trade in the East and Central part of Africa. Laing says us that these journeys were huge enterprises, with Arab trading caravans boasting porters and soldiers in huge numbers. Tippu Tip’s caravan itself had 2,400 men.

Besides being a smart trader, Tippu Tip had remarkable leadership qualities that would help him during his third journey lasting 12 years. During that trip, Tippu Tip made a decisive encounter with Henry Morton Stanley who acknowledged his unique qualities in his book, “Through the Dark Continent.” “After regarding him for a few minutes, I came to the conclusion that this Arab was a remarkable man, the most remarkable man I had met among the Arabs…”

The fascinating players outlined in this book make it a must-read for anyone interested in real-life adventure.