‘Smart’ traffic lights could remotely stop vehicle engines -- IBM patent application

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Speeding through a red light? Not a chance, according to IBM Corp.

The technology behemoth, known for its work with computers, is now trying its hand at traffic. The company recently filed a patent application for a system that could remotely stop and start vehicle engines at traffic signals in order to save fuel and prevent crashes.

The system would sense vehicles’ positions and send a “stop engine” notification – either by automatically turning off the engine or displaying an alert telling drivers to manually switch off power.

At intersections, railway crossings and other locations, the system could use anything from weight sensors to camera and GPS units to track vehicles. The technology could also be used to calculate when cars have been idling for too long and should be shut down.


Once the light turns green, the system may be able to time when drivers should crank up the ignition based on where they are in the line.

Drivers might also be able to sign up for a sort of service that would use Wi-Fi, cellular networks or satellite communications to tell inform them when to cut their engines.

The blogosphere is ablaze over the proposal: What about hackers? What about glitches? What happens when I need to get my pregnant wife to the hospital?

The patent application explains the rationale this way:

Vehicle fuel consumption is a major component of global energy consumption. With increasing vehicle usage, there may be more traffic and longer wait times at traffic signals (e.g., at a traffic intersection or a railway crossing). Fuel may be wasted when drivers keep their vehicles running while waiting for the traffic signal to turn ‘green’ or waiting for a train to pass at a railway crossing. Most drivers may not switch off their engines in these situations. Drivers who do switch off their engines may do so inefficiently. For example, a driver may switch off the engine, only to start it up a short time later. In such cases, more fuel may be consumed in restarting the engine. Some traffic signals may have clocks that indicate remaining durations before the signals change. However, drivers in vehicles waiting at the back of the queue may not be able to view the clock.

Now, if only someone would do something about those stop signs.

--Tiffany Hsu