Traffic lights that stop your car?

IBM looks into stoplights that remotely turn off the engines of idling cars.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Waiting at long traffic lights is frustrating enough without having to waste gas money and needlessly pollute the air.

As more cars hit the road in coming decades, this could likely get worse.

But IBMhas an interesting solution in mind. Last week the company submitted a patent application for a traffic light that stops and starts cars automatically.

To all of you yellow-light blasters, don't worry. The light wouldn't brake for you but turn off your engine after your car was already stationary at the intersection. Taking into account how much longer before the green signal shines, the light would restart your engine at a time that would optimize fuel efficiency.

But not too soon and not too late. The calculation would need to consider when stopping and starting the engine would burn more energy than simply idling. The location of your car in traffic would also come into play, with the first engines to turn on being at the front of the line.

Just how the stoplight system would determine what that precise time would be for your specific vehicle—old, new, standard, hybrid, electric—sitting at the front, middle or end of the line, I don't know. And the patent doesn't say.

IBM has not decided on, or perhaps developed, the technologies to deploy with their traffic light idea. But they list the following as some possibilities:

  • Have light system receive data from GPS, Wi-Fi or cellular networks, or weight sensors beneath the road to determine car location.
  • Send notification displays to the car telling the driver to manually switch the ignition.
  • Have drivers participate through a voluntary member program.

The system might only be worthwhile in an area's larger and busier intersections, and as IBM suggests, at railroad crossings for long freight trains. In any case, given many peoples' attitudes toward having complete mastery over their vehicle, my hunch is the notification display would be most popular. After all, a car may currently parallel park for its driver (or should I say passenger?) but this might differ from people allowing a third party, even temporarily, to remotely control their car.

Time and more research will tell whether this patent will ignite or remain idle.

Image: Flickr/Squonk11
: Physorg

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards