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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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

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 40%

Probably - 20%

Maybe - 40%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 60%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 0%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 20%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 20%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 20%

4 - Yes, I think so - 60%

3 - Maybe - 20%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4 - Yes, I think so - 50%

3 - Maybe - 100%

2 - Probably not - 50%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 20%

4 - Yes, I think so - 40%

3 - Maybe - 20%

2 - Probably not - 20%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so - 0%

3- Maybe - 25%

2- Probably not - 50%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 33.3%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 100%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 33.3%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 33.3%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 33.3%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 33.3%

Other option - 33.3%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 33.3%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 33.3%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 33.3%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 33.3%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 66.7%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Will Leonard

Hey Alex and Nicholas, this is a really interesting project that you guys have proposed. I think this is a good idea because it could tackle two issues at once, vehicle emissions and track. Less track into also has the added benefit of allowing people more time in their days to work on productive things like combating climate change. Though I think by all means more effective traffic lights are a good thing, I am curious as to how much of a long term impact they would have. In my experience measures to do reduce traffic like adding another lane to a highway just encourage people to drive more and traffic does not improve much. I wonder how the trade-off here would play out from an environmental perspective. As an unrelated question, I am curious as to how you would program your traffic lights to be able to detect individual cars or other objects like bikes or truck that could obscure, or be obscured by, other vehicles. Keep up the good work!

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