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Innovation & Startups

Finally, a traffic light that reduces pollution and congestion; CMU opens new Energy Institute

Pittsburgh announced the success of a highly intelligent traffic signal system in East Liberty this week that is shortening commuter times while reducing emissions on congested city streets.
The technology was created through the Traffic21 Initiative at CMU's H. John Heinz III College in coordination with CMU's Robotics Institute. It works with the help of cameras, which sense traffic volume at each intersection, and technology that adjusts the timing of the lights to facilitate the flow of traffic through intersections.
The pilot project, initiated last June, placed the smart lights along Penn Avenue, Penn Circle South and Penn Circle East.  Among the benefits were a 40 percent reduction in vehicle wait time, a 26 percent reduction in car travel time and a 21 percent cut in vehicle emissions, the Traffic21 study reported.  
The strength of the system is the signals' ability to communicate with other traffic signals while collaboratively adapting to traffic conditions in real time using concepts from the field of artificial intelligence and traffic theory, explained Stephen Smith, director of the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory in CMU's Robotics Institute. 
"I'm proud of CMU's team, which developed this first in-the-world technology, and am equally proud of the partnership approach typical of Pittsburgh that made this pilot possible," said Dr. Jared L. Cohon, president of CMU, during a press conference on Monday.
Traffic21 was launched in 2009 with funding from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. The Heinz Endowments' Breathe Project and the Richard King Mellon Foundation provided funding for the pilot as well.  
"We are now beginning to see how Pittsburgh can be positioned to be a leading city on an international scale in demonstrating how low-cost, easy-to-implement technological solutions can reduce traffic congestion, vehicle fuel consumption and emissions while also improving safety and air quality," said Henry Hillman, Pittsburgh businessman and philanthropist.

In other CMU news, the university opened the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation this month, an educational and research initiative to develop innovations that improve energy efficiency and create new, clean and sustainable energy sources. 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Heinz Foundation, CMU and Traffic21

Image of Henry Hillman courtesy of the Hillman Foundation.
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