IBM wants traffic lights to stop your car

traffic lights
LED traffic light in Forest Hill, New South Wales. Image credit: Wikipedia.
( -- IBM has filed a patent application for a traffic light system that can remotely stop and start the engines of vehicles, with the aim of increasing fuel consumption efficiency at busy intersections.

The system would be able to receive position information from vehicles waiting at red lights to determine a queue of participating vehicles stopped at the signal. It would then determine the time still to elapse before the lights turn green, and if this time is over a set threshold (such as two minutes) the traffic light would then send signals to the vehicle engines to stop them.

When the lights turn green, a “start-engine notification” would be sent to the front vehicle to start its engine first, and a signal would be sent to the second vehicle in the queue an “optimal time” later, and so on.

The IBM patent says the system could be applied to traffic signals at intersections, railway crossings, or other transportation signals for “indicating correct moments to stop and to proceed.” Its stated aims are to reduce wastage of fuel and optimize the movement of vehicles through the intersection or crossing.

The patent states that with “increasing vehicle usage there may be more traffic and longer wait times at traffic signals,” resulting in wasted fuel if the vehicle engines are kept running. It acknowledges that most drivers do not turn off their vehicles’ engines in such situations, and that more fuel may be used in restarting the engine than in keeping it running if it is stopped for too short a time. The system would therefore take into account the time remaining before the signal changes to determine if the vehicle’s engine should be stopped.

The proposed system would gather data from traffic signal clocks, GPS data on vehicle positions, traffic load information (perhaps from weight sensors in the road), cameras, and/or “other data obtainable from sensors embedded at the intersections.” The communications system may use Wi-Fi technologies, a cellular network, or satellite communications.

In one proposed model the method would be made available as a “service” that vehicle drivers would need to sign up for. The stop/start-engine notifications could switch the engine off and on automatically, or they could trigger alerts to the driver to turn it off/on manually.

The idea is at the stage, and the patent only covers the method but not the communications technology. Many applications never proceed any further, and only time will tell if this will be one of them.

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Citation: IBM wants traffic lights to stop your car (2010, May 26) retrieved 20 June 2019 from
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May 26, 2010
I think this is a bad idea. Yes, some people are bad drivers and some just make bad decisions, but a minor bug or a downed street light would create even more chaos than it currently does. I'm not certain though, I'd have to see it in action to really judge.

I'm a bit biased though, I'm more of a fan of less road regulation with a more robust and directional system.

May 26, 2010
This system, once integrated, could be abused by authorities (or otherwise). Imagine someone being able to disable your engine at a moments notice.

It's not a stretch of the imagination to assume this technology will be abused by the technologically savvy.

May 26, 2010
If my car has ever has this system, I will be disabling it. On/Off operations are by far the source of most wear on cars.

A better solution= (1) switch fuel sources and (2) recapture ideal energy.

May 26, 2010
This system, once integrated, could be abused by authorities (or otherwise). Imagine someone being able to disable your engine at a moments notice.

It's called OnStar, U-Connect, and whatever the other manufacturers call it.

That technology is already in the wild. I don't fear it, unless it becomes abused. In which case I'll disable the antenna.

May 26, 2010
Aww, this will be really handy at a traffic light in Atlanta when it's 105F outside with kids or elderly in the car. Kill the car, kill the ac.

Just like people were able to over-ride and pirate Satellite TV - someone with more intelligence than wisdom will hack this also, and shut down a major interstate - just for kicks.

I swear, some folks who come up with this stuff are not being properly managed towards more useful purposes.

May 26, 2010
Do you ever get the feeling we are increasingly being managed like a herd of stupid cattle?

May 26, 2010
This tech will be most useful in self driving vehicles.

May 26, 2010
pffft, forget atlanta think about phoenix in the summer when it reaches 115+

May 26, 2010
A big problem would be in emergency situations. If a firetruck or ambulance needs to get through traffic at a red people are supposed to try to shift their cars out of the way if possible.

With this system in place emergency vehicles would be at the mercy of the traffic lights just like the rest of us because we wouldn't be able to get out of their way.

May 26, 2010
Too bad if you have a failing battery.
The car engine stops, and it doesn't restart.
Even if that applied to only one car in a thousand it will result in chaos.

May 27, 2010
Whose going to pay for starters and solenioids that wear out from excessive starts?
How many people will keep and/or buy older less effeceint vehicles to avoid this silliness? I will!

Should be interesting with no AC in Vegas, Joshua Tree, Arizona and Reno where summertime temps exceed 115 degrees! Not to mention in FLA humidity!

May 27, 2010
You use more gas at startup than you do by idling at the light....

That's entirely wrong.

May 27, 2010
@LuckyBrandon: that's only true if you idle less than 30 seconds
@jd111358: these 'excessive starts' happen all the time for hybrid cars like the fusion, prius, etc.
@SteveL: If A/C or heat is needed (and requires a running engine), existing hybrids do not shut off.
@Javinator: Most lights have override systems for emergency vehicles.

This is not about the stoplight killing your engine (which the crappy title suggests). It's about giving your car information on whether or not it is "worth it" to stop your engine at a light. The article mentions a > 2min wait time in case you just read the title and skimmed the article. This system would also give plenty of time to restart the engine before the light turns green. And for those who want the "right" to waste fuel at a stoplight, I'm sure there will be an override switch for you to exercise that right.

May 28, 2010

actually if you run into a gass station for less than four minutes its better to leave your car running than restart you use ALOT of gas to start your car excessively so.

excessive starts do not happen all the time in hybrids

but you are right this is about giving your car more information if it is worth keeping your engine running and allowing it to make the decision.

I have been in a few big cities and have never NEVER waited for 2 minutes at a light

May 28, 2010
I'm assuming that one will not have to retrofit this capability to older car models. Summertime will be a lot more sweaty if that is the case. Where would I get my AC?

May 29, 2010
I don't want traffic lights that control my car, I want the car to control the lights. We need smart lights and intersections with sensors that detect cars near the light and turn on and off to minimize the time people spend stopped. Especially for low traffic areas, the light would always turn green when you are the only one approaching an intersection. It would change the light as soon as possible instead of waiting set amounts of time.

We don't need a gizmo to start and stop our motors constantly. The problem is if something can remotely stop a car's motor, then anyone can stop it. Like cops and car jackers to name a couple. I don't want that in my car.

May 29, 2010
More Zero thinking....

Just like the Hilary Lock in a gun, I would never buy a car so equipped....

Ever drive a car to the repair shop with a dead battery? I had one fail at a traffic light just a block or so before I got to the shop. Dropped a flare and popped the hood while waiting (bless my cell phone) for a hook. Some idiot pulled up behind me, OVER TOP OF THE FLARE, and started blowing his horn.... I was praying :D .... (The Township PD showed up and "blocked" me for a couple minutes, fortunately.)

I like the idea of an OWNER to request On-Star to kill an engine in a stolen vehicle, but that scares me, too. I won't be buying those either.

May 29, 2010
Do you ever get the feeling we are increasingly being managed like a herd of stupid cattle?

Absolutely, but the problem is most people lately CHOOSE not to think for themselves.

What is a person who pretty much does the predictable friday/saturday/sunday night bar/club thing every week, and similar things, OTHER than a stupid cattle? They ARE stupid cattle, which is very much most of humanity...


I will say this, for shipping companies, Mythbusters PROVED that for a route in a city with optimum driving distance giving roughly equal turns left and right, you actually waste more fuel waiting to make a left hand turn than if you made 3 right hand turns, driving around the block. Moreover, in their test, it was a "worst case scenario" for the "right turn only" strategy, and the strategy still worked, using 2lbs less fuel for delivery to the same 6 addresses...

So sitting in traffic at lights actually uses about 3 times as much fuel as the drive itself.

May 29, 2010

Mythbusters proof doesn't always stand up to real solid measurement, although I think they got it close enough in this case. However, having a vehicle turned off at the light (was it Honda who made a car that did it for you a while back?) is probably asking for further problems, wear, etc., with little benefit that properly timed lights wouldn't provide. "Right turn on red" seems to help a lot, and that may be why the Mythbusters kids got some advantage there, too. And, as a sidebar, it's interesting to note that an ordinary car didn't fare nearly as well on this test. The van is just a different type of vehicle, and driving techniques are different.

Anyway, it may be better to set lights up so they don't cycle if cars aren't present.... Why do you sit there and wait for a light to change at 0430 when the only one around is you and the LEO behind the billboard? Seems to me it would be better to let the light see you coming and set itself for you....

May 30, 2010
Micromanagement can lose you games believe it or not.

May 30, 2010
There are so many different types of vehicles (small cars, medium cars, large cars, vans, SUVs, delivery vans (UPS), motorcycles, big rigs, etc...) that ONE timing does NOT fit all. Not to mention, the payload of each vehicle and the tuning of each vehicle. A *MUCH* better approach is to have the lights just broadcast when they're going to turn green. Each vehicle (or driver) can make their best decision on what to do. RARELY is it better to turn off your engine. It takes a lot of fuel to restart an engine, not to mention the wear and tear on the parts as well as all the valid arguments in favor of AC. Even in Tennessee, we get 100+ degree weather in the summer.

Let's not forget that every time an engine is shut off, a small percentage of them WON'T start back up. Imagine how much fuel would be wasted by all the stalled vehicles at lights and the traffic jams they'll cause.

This is truly a bad idea. Again, broadcast the timing and let each vehicle make it's own decision.

May 30, 2010
This wouldn't even be an issue with electrical vehicles coated in solar panels.

However, due to the inadequacy of batteries as well as "onboard" solar panels, I've also thought of certain projects for future electric vehicles. I know of several solutions to the "limited range" of electric automobiles, but I should perhaps patent the idea (if it doesn't infringe on something already patented.)

The problem with the transportation issue is that it is very difficult at this point to install new transportation infrastructures of the type "somebody" will one day need, and do so in a "backwards compatible" manner that still supports older automobiles until their expected life-time has expired.

I have thought of several "simple" infrastructure options based directly on existing technologies with NO major change in principle or application, only location and frequency of said systems.

I.e. replace wheeled automobiles with mag-lev automobiles on mag-lev super highways.

May 31, 2010
When IBM starts paying my car payments and buying my gas they can tell me what to do. I understand the goal but where do we draw the line? Next they will be in your home turning your TV and lights on and off as they see fit. I don't need IBM to make these kinds of decisions for me. Does anyone...really?
Why doesn't this company work on solutions to help the homeless here in America, or target the real contributors of fuel consumption such as factories? A company with the resources that IBM has could do a lot of good and instead they are spending research dollars to come up with ways to control my personal property. Maybe IBM should just buy everyone in America a new hybrid vehicle, because that would really have a positive impact. Oh, silly me, that interferes with their true goal to make money rather than actually conserve anything.

May 31, 2010
I think it's a bad idea to take control of a vehicle away from its operator - it can lead to all kinds of problems, as already discussed.

However, the stop/start function is a good idea, though not with current cars. Some newer cars, including hybrids, already have this function as part of the vehicle's normal operation. The engine/transmission system is specifically designed for efficient stop/start operation, which means extra engine wear isn't a problem. As more and more of these types of vehicles come on stream, the type of draconian interference detailed in this article will happily not be needed.

May 31, 2010
Oh, silly me, that interferes with their true goal to make money rather than actually conserve anything.

DING DING! You win the $64 question!

That is capitalism, a.k.a. "We gotcha by the nuts sheople."

Capitalism is, "We could do this for $300, but we shall charge $1000 just becaue we can. God bless America!"

May 31, 2010
Why bash Capitalism???? I don't like this red light idea any more than anyone here (probably even less), but IBM is a *TECHNOLOGY* company. They provide newer and better technologies (usually). They're not there to give away their resources to go broke. They're not there to feed the hungry, to give free cash to the poor. They're there for 2 reasons: Improve technology and to make money. And not, making a profit is NOT a bad thing... especially when there's competition, and there's plenty of that. When two companies compete for the same dollars, they HAVE to become MORE efficient and LOWER their COSTS while at the same time providing what the customer wants (us). WE choose which products and services to buy AND we choose WHO to buy them from. That puts US, the CONSUMERS in charge, on the macro scale. Companies that can't change to be efficient enough to provide what we want at the price and service level we want will disappear and will be replaced with competitors that CAN.

May 31, 2010
...continued: Competitive capitalism is light years ahead of government in efficiency AND in customer satisfaction. It's a RARE case when (or even IF) government can provide any product or service at the same cost, efficiency, and customer satisfaction as the private sector can. The government doesn't have to compete. The private sector DOES. Just think of the politeness factor... Who's more polite... the people who work in any government agency where you've got to stand in line to be serviced (think DMV) or any privately owned company you spend money at (whether or not you have to stand in line). If a government employee is rude, do they have to worry about being fired? In most cases NO. If a privately employed employee is rude to customers, how long will they last in that position? Not very long.

May 31, 2010
...continued: Capitalism is not just more efficient, it doesn't just reduce costs, it doesn't just produce a more pleasant (or less negative) experience... It's less "evil" than government run systems. It's also where most innovation comes from (this traffic light example being one poor example... most technology innovations being great examples, including the invention of the computer itself by who? IBM!! Also the combustion engine, the automobile, electricity, lights, movies, game consoles, TVs, phones, cell phones, iPhones, Droid, etc... You'll never get that from GOVERNMENT! And you'll never get those inventions if the inventors can't profit from making them). Capitalism is freedom and freedom is more fair and more just than unknowledgeable, government employees making your decisions for you. Is capitalism perfect? Of course not. But it's far better than government making all of your decisions for you.

May 31, 2010
Big deal, we need a driverless vehicle system so we can eliminate injury and death, as well as waste of energy and time, from our roads. If you want to control a vehicle there will be race tracks and off-roading for you. Hack-risk/redundancy-risk be damned we need to find a way past those issues and enter the future already. 100% driverless is the only moral solution.

Jun 01, 2010
Capitalism is, "We could do this for $300, but we shall charge $1000 just becaue we can. God bless America!"

Socialism is "We did this for $300, but we will force you to buy it for $1000 just because we can."

The faulty logic is thinking that the problem is captialism or socialism. The true problem is that man is always greedy.

At least with capitalism, you can chose not to buy from him.

Jun 01, 2010
this is completely unnecessary and designed to perpetuate our wastefull monetary system.

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