Traffic Lights …. Is there a way to improve it ?

[tweetmeme] There is an old saying, “If it is not broken don’t try to fix it !”. We all have been seeing the humble 3 colored traffic lights since we were kids. Infact On December 10 1868, the first traffic lights were installed outside the British Houses of Parliament in London, by the railway engineer J. P. Knight. They resembled railway signals of the time, with semaphore arms and red and green gas lamps for night use. The gas lantern was turned with a lever at its base so that the appropriate light faced traffic. Unfortunately, it exploded on 2 January 1869, injuring or killing the policeman who was operating it.

A lot of people have contributed to making the Traffic Lights the way it is today. Automatic control of interconnected traffic lights was introduced March 1922 in Houston, Texas. Actually more history of the traffic Lights can be seen at the Wikipedia page. That is not what I am writing about. I am actually trying to show that every breakthrough is a collective effort that combines and tweaks already existing ideas and technology in novel ways. So whats the breakthrough effort in the traffic lights, well first off … Bharat Electronics Limited in India, yes BEL in India, came up with a new concept of the traffic lights back in 2001. The traffic lights use solar cells, countdown timers, LED displays, programmable logic controllers and a dual power supply. The PV cells offer an alternative to conventional power, and generate enough daily energy to run the system for three days. The power requirement is 10 percent of conventional signals resulting in substantial energy savings of up to 60,000 Rupees per year for a single junction.

Well this was a great innovation that spread throughout the country as wildfire. But now more innovations are set to hit the traffic signal like you have never seen before. But hopefully they will reduce distraction and increase efficiency. So here are some examples:

The Virtual Wall conceived by Hanyoung Lee is designed to heighten driver and pedestrian awareness and to encourage both to follow crosswalk rules. The virtual wall which is made of plasma laser beams, shows virtual pedestrians jaywalking and ignoring traffic rules of pedestrian safety.

Yanko design, one of the most recognized design forums in the world, has also produced a re innovation of the timed traffic lights, yes, they have taken the concept of BEL and driven it to a bit more aesthetic / interesting way. Stanković promotes this stoplight as an eco solution in the following ways: If you’ve got the amount of time you’ve got to stop in front of you, you can shut your engine off, wait, be calm, and turn it back on again when the time is almost up. This not only lessens the amount of gas you use sitting still, but it lessens the amount of crazy madness you have wondering if the stoplight is stuck, or just really, really long.
Or even just adding the solar panels to the traffic signal and improve the aesthetics of the kinda ugly traffic signals. Well here are some interesting designs.
The inherent inefficiency of the three-light traffic signal is clearly demonstrated in this proposal for a two-light LED system, which produces the same three colors in one enclosure by combining red and green.
All of the above just goes to prove that there is nothing that cant really be improved on, unless we improve on things or attempt to improve on things, we cannot really push the envelope of existing innovations or existing products and services.
More information about the above signals here:
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