Smarter traffic lights to reduce traffic congestion and car emissions

We are inventing smarter traffic lights to better manage traffic and reduce congestion on the road, which reduces car emissions.

Photo of Alex Forman
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Eligibility: Please confirm you meet all the following criteria

  • You are aged between 14 - 18 as of August 1, 2020
  • You live in the United States or its territories
  • You are not employed by, or directly related (grand parents, parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • You have been working on this project for at least three months
  • You consent to us possibly featuring your work on social media
  • You confirm you have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Eligibility: Date of Birth

Jan 1st, 2005

What gender do you identify with?

  • Male

Help us stay in touch!

6264371714 & California: South Pasadena (91030)

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The problem that our design attempts to aid is the idling of cars and subsequent road congestion that comes with it. In the United States alone, personal vehicle cars idling in traffic emit roughly 30 million tons of CO2 a year. This detrimental figure contributes to a much larger piece of the problem that is climate change, arguably the most pertinent issue facing our generation.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We have designed sensor boxes that can attach to virtually any traffic light, that completely change how traffic lights control the flow of traffic. Each sensor box uses 5 different LIDAR and Ultrasonic sensors to create a 3d map of the cars and pedestrians on the road, as well as being able to track each vehicle's speed. Because our traffic lights can “see” the road and see how many cars are waiting, it is able to control traffic in the most efficient manner. Currently, most traffic lights just work on a pre-programmed timer circuit to let cars through, which is an extremely inefficient system, especially in areas with varying amounts of traffic throughout the day. There are also quite a few traffic lights that can tell if there is a car waiting through having sensors in the ground beneath them, but those can only tell if there is 1 car.This is also very inefficient because as long as there is 1 car there, the light will turn green for that lane for a full cycle, even if there is only 1 car that needs to get through. With our system, we can tell exactly how many cars need to get through. This means that cars will spend less time idling in traffic and thus releasing less pollution.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

Our approach to this issue is very STEM centered, as we use Technology, Engineering, and Math to research and combat this problem. All of these aspects are necessary for designing and potentially executing our revolutionary traffic light. We also have been taking STEM based classes for the last few years and it is great to finally be able to apply our knowledge of programming, engineering, and design.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Both my brother and I live in Los Angeles County. LA has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. I can say with confidence we are both tired of hour commutes for things that should be a fifteen minute drive. We are also both passionate about the environment. We try to stay as updated as possible on what is happening with climate change, and how we can reduce our carbon footprint. Finding this prompt seemed very fitting for our interests and problems, so we’ve spent a lot of time working on this.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

We first researched current solutions being executed to the problem of traffic congestion and were intrigued by sensor-based traffic lights. We noticed, however, that the way the few that are in running is not the most efficient. We researched different types of sensors and components that would work the best for this application. Next, we spent the last 2 months creating the best possible design around these parts and starting to work on developing software for the lights.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

There are some other smart traffic lights, but they usually can only tell if a car is waiting right in front of the light. This means that even if there is only 1 car in the lane waiting to go, that light will turn green for a whole cycle which means that the light will wait the same amount of time if there is 1 car waiting or 20 cars waiting. Our light can detect the exact quantity of cars. Even with the inefficiency of these smart lights, studies show that city traffic congestion decreases by 30%,so one can only imagine how much greater our decrease would be. Our solution fixes this problem.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

We are still in the design phase so we are yet to show lots of people, but the people we have talked to know the problem of waiting in traffic because of inaccurate traffic lights all too well, so we believe it is a prevalent issue that needs to be combated.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We hope to finish designing within the next month and have a working prototype by August. We then want to start collaborating with city officials to hopefully get our sensors integrated with traffic lights and start small scale testing.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

I was talking with my friend the other day how driving to the grocery store at the moment is so much faster than it used to be because there are much less cars on the road due to stay at home orders. I made a remark about how our concept could potentially keep the same Level of traffic even when things returned to normal. This was very intriguing to him and he’s now very interested in our project, and has even told some of our other friends about it.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

One thing like our smart traffic light isn’t enough to stop climate change. It is crucial that our product be used alongside other inventions and legislation to reach this goal. We are only 2 people, with our ideas so seeking feedback and knowledge from other changemakers is crucial to make the most optimal design. We also live in an age where networking is very easy because of social media, so finding other changemakers who could give us feedback on our design is quite easy.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

We think that the fact of idling cars in traffic producing 30 million tons of co2 a year is pretty staggering and one that shocks a lot of people we talk to. We think that alone usually gets people thinking about what they can do to solve it, and if we are able to tell them that they can urge their cities to install more efficient traffic lights, they would do that, and thus getting cities to implement our traffic lights.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support


William Forman - - 6264227118 Lisa Cody - - 6268245577 RJ Sakai - - 626.441.2076 x330

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or General Motors, who was it?

RJ Sakai, the director of the Social Innovation Program at my school.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Ali Hussein

Hey Alex and Nicholas! I really enjoyed learning about your project and really liked your usage of statistics to showcase the problem. A couple of thoughts as I read through your project: (1) What percentage of total vehicle emissions is contributed to idle vehicles? (2) Does your system also work for cable traffic lights? (3) How would performance under different weather be impacted? I am wondering if using technology in addition to the LiDARs and ultrasonic sensors would improve the robustness of the system. Good luck to you and keep up the great work on a cool project!

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