MIT for Managers: Goodbye Traffic Lights?

Our biweekly exploration of new business ideas from the corridors of MIT.

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Preparing for Intelligent Intersections

Here’s a thought for motorists: The next time you’re sitting at a red light, savor the moment. If researchers from MIT’s SENSEable City Lab and the Ambient Mobility Lab have their way, your hours of waiting at traffic lights could be numbered. In an article published in PLoS One, a team led by MIT’s Carlo Ratti and Paoli Santi describe a system in which automobiles and transportation infrastructure would interact though an algorithm that would manage the safe flow of cars through busy intersections.

The technique, known as “slot-based design,” works like this: As cars equipped with special sensors move toward an intersection, they would send information about their speed and trajectory to a central algorithm that manages the intersection; it would have the ability to coordinate the information from all the other cars approaching the same point. Then an intelligent software system would manage the speeds of the various vehicles, using a type of cruise control, to guide the cars safely through the intersection: Some cars would slow down; others would accelerate, for a scene that might resemble this video from Black Sheep Films. “You want the car to use the intersection for the shortest possible time,” says Santi.

The researchers say that with self-driving vehicles, moving beyond traffic lights would be relatively easy to achieve. But they contend that there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it with today’s technology. The trickiest part, they say, will be preparing drivers to cede control of the gas pedal. The researchers are exploring ways to test their ideas in real-life settings.

Why India Needs Startups

With a GDP growth rate of 7.5%, one of the fastest business startup rates in the world, and a new emphasis on economic reforms that are long overdue, India’s economy is arguably one of the few bright spots in the world. Yet as a poor nation (per capita annual income is slightly more than $1,500) with 1.2 billion people, India’s challenges are daunting. The country is in the midst of an epic migration, with an estimated 400 million people relocating from rural villages to cities. And even though some 13 million new job seekers enter the Indian job market each year, the economy is generating less than half the jobs it needs.


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