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New technology in Ottawa could take the guesswork out of red lights

Twelve intersections along Hunt Club Road have been the site of tests for new technology which hooks up cars to the traffic light system.

A demonstration of new Smart City traffic technology was on display on Thursday.

Kieran Delamont / Metro

A demonstration of new Smart City traffic technology was on display on Thursday.

It could soon be more than just a yellow light giving you warning a light is about to change as the city is now testing technology that tells drivers what to expect before it happens.

The system works like this: as you approach one of the 12 intersections hooked up to the system, an icon on your dashboard tells you either how long you will need to wait until the light turns green, or if it's currently green, how long until it turns red.

In the latter case, the idea would be that you are able to brake more smoothly, and use less fuel, than in a system where a red light could surprise you. 

The $300,000 project, which was half funded by the feds, with the province chipping in another quarter, saw a six kilometre stretch of Hunt Club Drive able to communicate with a limited test run of trucks.

The city wanted to test it with “professional drivers” first, to iron out the kinks—before being rolled out any further. 

The system makes use of the Smart City infrastructure the city has already invested in, as the connected vehicle technology uses data from the traffic management system. “We’re using existing data from the traffic system, but packaged in a different way,” said Greg Kent, manager of traffic management at the city.

The system is another step that Ottawa is taking in the direction of becoming a leader in autonomous car technology. Earlier this fall, Kanata hosted the first ever test of an autonomous vehicle on a municipal road. 

“In Kanata, there’s a saying: change doesn’t scare us out there, it excites us,” said MP Karen McCrimmon.

Though similar systems are in use in some American cities, like Las Vegas and Portland, the everyday driver will still have to wait before they get to try it out in their own car

“It’s at least one model year away” from being available to the public, said Andrew Thompson, managing director of Thompson Technologies.

The tests have been underway since August, and are now being analyzed by researchers at Carleton University. 

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