PBS NewsHour featured Rapid Flow and Surtrac in a segment on the ways robotics and artificial intelligence are being used to reduce traffic and congestion on the roads of Pittsburgh. Reporter Jeffrey Brown visited the city to speak to those creating the technology, as well as some city employees.
Brown notes that the average commuter spends upwards of 42 hours at a complete standstill in traffic every year, which is one of several reasons why robotics experts have been working to create smart traffic signals that provide an optimized transportation grid for drivers, cyclists, buses, and pedestrians.
Brown sat down with Steve Smith, a professor at Carnegie Mellon and the founder of Surtrac intelligent traffic signal control which is currently deployed at dozens of intersections across Pittsburgh. Smith notes that traditional traffic systems are designed to handle average traffic flows, and that’s not cutting it for cities with congestion issues and complex grid networks.
With Surtrac smart traffic signal control, the software uses cameras and radar to track cars as they approach an intersection, and then an algorithm determines how to move the cars through in the most efficient manner. With the traffic being optimized in real time and installed intersections sharing information with their neighbors, the technology has resulted in a 25% reduction in travel times in Pittsburgh. Vehicles are stopping less often and idling for shorter periods of time, reducing congestion, pollution, and improving safety.
The Surtrac adaptive traffic signal control system has also helped the city of Pittsburgh win an international innovation award, and the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $11 million to expand the program.
Brown also spoke with Alex Pazuchanics, Policy Advisor for the City of Pittsburgh, who said that city officials have been happy with the program and are planning to expand the city’s use of Surtrac.
You can watch the full feature on PBS NewsHour here:
Update (March 2020):
Since the feature on PBS NewsHour in September 2017, many major cities in the U.S. and Canada have chosen Surtrac smart traffic control to help them optimize their transportation network including Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Portland (Maine), as well as metro regions around Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and Edmonton. Further, the city of Pittsburgh plans to expand its use of adaptive traffic control from its existing 50 intersection Surtrac deployment, to another 100-200 intersections throughout the city. The technology has also made significant advancements to account for evolving methods of travel, specifically being able to optimize for multimodal traffic operations including Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CAV).