Cars That Talk With Traffic Lights

Edmonton is Canada’s first test site for wireless technology that could change the way we manage traffic

Active-Aurora Street Sign
The City is partnering with Transport Canada, Alberta Transportation and the Universities of Alberta and British Columbia to test the smart traffic management system that is part of the ACTIVE-AURORA project.

In south Edmonton, some cars are now talking to traffic lights.

Not literally in English, but certain cars are sending wireless signals to the traffic signal devices indicating they are waiting for the light to change. These devices in turn send a signal back to the vehicles indicating how many seconds are left on the red light. This encrypted and secure exchange is recorded along with hundreds of other bits of shared communication between the cars and 30 roadside communications units installed along the northwest corner of Anthony Henday Drive, the eastern portion of Whitemud Drive, and on 23rd Avenue.

“It’s called connected vehicle technology, or CV for short,” says Rahim Karmali, Director of Network Operations for the City of Edmonton. “Edmonton is the first city in Canada to test this smart traffic management system where vehicles and roadside infrastructure share all kinds of information in real time, such as how many vehicles are using a particular traffic lane or how slippery a section of roadway is.”

Rahim adds, “All the shared information comes back to the City in real time and to help make quicker and more efficient traffic management decisions. The potential for this technology to change how traffic is managed is substantial.”

connected vehicle technology demo Interface
An example of the interface prototype for connected vehicle technology, which enables vehicles outfitted with it to wirelessly send and receive information from roadside devices such as traffic lights.

Testing of this smart traffic management system is part of ACTIVE-AURORA, a research project launched in 2014 that involved Transport Canada, Alberta Transportation, the City of Edmonton, the Centre for Smart Transportation at the University of Alberta, and the University of British Columbia. Edmonton’s focus on emerging smart traffic and green technologies made it a strong municipal partner in this project.

“Much like how cell phones have evolved into smart phones, the car is fast becoming an information hub that will change how we move by connecting us with our surrounding environment,” says Dr. Tony Qiu, Director of the University of Alberta Centre for Smart Transportation. “With ACTIVE-AURORA and the collaboration of several different organizations, Edmonton gets to play an active role in that evolution.”

Recently, ACTIVE-AURORA received further support from Western Economic Diversification Canada with $934,000 in funding to explore clean technology solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as part of $3.3 million provided on January 26, 2018 for clean energy development projects at the University of Alberta.

If testing proves CV technology is what it promises to be, both individuals and cities as a whole will enjoy a long list of benefits: improved traffic flow, safer roads, more fuel economy for vehicles, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and even shorter response times for emergency vehicles.

“ACTIVE-AURORA is one of many projects the City of Edmonton is part of in 2018 that involve shifting our transportation system towards smarter, greener and more innovative services,” says Gord Cebryk, Branch Manager of Parks and Roads Services for the City of Edmonton. “We are planning and thinking ahead about how services such as connected vehicles – as well as automated vehicles, electric vehicles, and shared-use transportation – can best serve Edmontonians today and adapt for tomorrow.”