Google has just announced Project Greenlight, a new initiative for cities to reduce pollution by improving traffic signals. Project Greenlight is using AI to help fight climate change by changing red lights to green faster, aiming for fewer stops, less pollution, and easier drives.
Road transport contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, with city intersections being hotspots of pollution – 29 times higher than open roads.
Green Light uses AI and data from Google Maps that details how people drive on roads to understand traffic patterns better. It aims to help city traffic engineers make smart suggestions to improve the flow of traffic.
Initial data shows that this could lead to 30% fewer stops at traffic lights and a 10% decrease in harmful gas emissions.
By making each traffic intersection more efficient and ensuring nearby intersections work well together, the goal is to create a smooth flow of traffic with more green lights, reducing the stop-and-start nature of city driving.
The system is now up and running at 70 traffic spots across 12 cities on four different continents, including places like Haifa in Israel, Bangalore in India, and Hamburg in Germany. With Green Light’s help, these intersections are now more fuel-efficient, reducing emissions for as many as 30 million car rides every month.
David Atkin, an Analysis and Reporting Manager for the Transport for Greater Manchester, England, had this to say:
Green Light identified opportunities where we previously had no visibility and directed engineers to where there were potential benefits in changing signal timings. This provided valuable insights for our city with 2,400 traffic signals. Both the Green Light and Transport for Greater Manchester teams brought expertise and ideas to the table to improve journeys and reduce emissions
How Project Greenlight Works
Getting to Know the Intersection
Thanks to years of mapping cities, Google can figure out the current settings of traffic lights, like how long they stay red or green, and how they are coordinated with nearby lights.
Studying Traffic Flow
Google creates a model to see how traffic moves through the intersection, helping to learn about common traffic behaviors, like the usual waiting times at lights and how traffic plans change during the day.
Offering Suggestions to the City
With the help of AI, Google finds ways to tweak the timing of traffic lights to improve traffic flow. These suggestions are then shared with the city, whose traffic engineers can review and apply them using existing city tools, and it can be done quickly, in just about 5 minutes.
Checking the Results
Google checks how its suggestions have reduced the number of stops for drivers and how it has affected traffic flow. The impact of these changes on the environment is also estimated. These findings are shared with the city, and Google continues to monitor the situation in case more tweaks are needed in the future.
Expanding Horizons: Google’s Multifaceted AI Initiatives Combatting Climate Change
The Green Light project is part of Google Research’s bigger goal of using AI to tackle climate change issues and make life better for millions of people living in cities worldwide. Besides tackling traffic woes, Google is also using AI to address other environmental challenges like floods, wildfires, and extreme heat.
A notable effort is Google’s Flood Forecasting Initiative. Started in 2018, this project now provides real-time flood information to 80 countries, helping 460 million people stay safe. For instance, it played a key role in Chile by providing timely flood alerts that helped local communities evacuate safely.
As wildfires become more common, Google is on the front lines mapping wildfire boundaries and predicting where fires might spread next. It uses AI and satellite pictures to track large fires in near real-time. Google is also working with the U.S. Forest Service to improve fire spread models, which will help firefighters plan better.
Google is also trying to help ease suffering from some of the initial consequences of climate change, including extreme heat. Google launched heat alerts and a Tree Canopy tool to help people and cities deal with heatwaves. The Tree Canopy tool uses AI to suggest where planting more trees can provide shade and cool down urban areas.
Additionally, Google’s Cool Roofs tool, currently being tested in four cities, uses AI to study roof surfaces to find out which areas could benefit from cool roofs that reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat.