100 years of traffic lights – now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak


Why the traffic lights are getting smarter

100 years of traffic lights - now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak-traffic

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The Ampelmannchen are an invention of the traffic psychologist Karl Peglau from the GDR. They were used for the first time in 1961, in 2004 in Zwickau …

Source: picture alliance / ZB

100 years of traffic lights - now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak-Anker-Stefan

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… to see the first traffic light woman. However, it has not established itself on a large scale.

Source: Siemens

100 years of traffic lights - now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak-explosion

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The first traffic light in Berlin was installed on Potsdamer Platz in 1924. It replaced ten police officers, but it didn’t work automatically. A security guard was at the top of the tower and mustte operate the traffic lights. The Berlin system is considered to be the first traffic light in Germany, but some sources also point to a traffic light on Hamburg’s Stephansplatz, which was put into service as early as 1922.

Source: Siemens

100 years of traffic lights - now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak-china

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On October 1, 1926, the Reich Minister of Transport enacted the legal equivalence of traffic lights with hand signals. The historic traffic light is still on Potsdam todayhe space, but no longer has any influence on the traffic.

Source: picture-alliance / ZB

100 years of traffic lights - now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak-dark yellow

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Modern traffic lights regulate their green and red phases depending on the amount of traffic. In order for this to work, they are …

Source: Siemens

100 years of traffic lights - now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak-traffic

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… equipped with a lot of computer technology. Siemens is the traffic light market leader in Germany and has now developed a traffic light that does not turn off when you update your operating systemmust earth.

Source: Siemens

100 years of traffic lights - now the traffic lights are learning to see and speak-Wilke Reint

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In technical jargon, traffic lights are called signaling devices, and a large collection of traffic lights at an intersection is called a traffic light system.

Source: Siemens

The traffic light is 100 years old and is still a long way from reaching the end of its technical capabilities. An insider shares how she’s gaining new skills – like seeing and speaking.

D.he man regularly does something that not too many people do today: stopping at red as pedestrians. “I build traffic lights,” says Wilke Reints, Head of Development Intelligent Traffic Systems at Siemens, “that’s why I take them very seriously. I don’t drive in dark yellow either. "

For the engineer who deals with new control functions day in and day out, traffic lights mean more than to the average road user. There are 1.5 million signal transmitters, as the individual traffic lights are officially called, in Germany alone, and Reints sees them as future command centers in the service of traffic flow.

“The traffic light learns to speak,” he says, and that sounds much better than the awkward word about car-to-x communication. In the not so distant future, cars will exchange data with each other (car-to-car communication, or C2C for short) and will also be in contact with the infrastructure – that’s the C2X.

The first electric traffic light was in Cleveland

This is already being tested in Berlin’s Tempelhof district, so far only with selected Audi vehicles. You will be informed by radio how long the upcoming traffic light will be red or green. If you know that, you can adjust your driving style accordingly and increase the go component in stop-and-go. This improves the flow of traffic, is easy on the nerves and also saves fuel.

But the development does not end there, as the Siemens developer predicts. “The traffic light will be able to see better. In the future, it will try to identify and take into account the starting behavior of the cars. She then sees the traffic coming. ”With the help of this information, the flow of cars can be regulated even more efficiently. The calculations required for this would, however, "keep the traffic engineering scene busy for the next five years".

What a difference to the thought of the very first traffic light. It was set up on August 5, 1914 in Cleveland, USA, it only knew red and green, and it needed a police officer who switched the colors by hand – and warned road users with a bell that the color would change soon.

It was similar in London 44 years earlier: even before the car had even been invented, a traffic-regulating structure was set up in Parliament Square, near the Palace of Westminster, which enabled or disabled traffic during the day with signal wings – and at night with gas lamps.

Bad end for the first gas light

After three weeks there was an explosion that seriously injured the police officer responsible for the traffic lights. It is therefore easier today to attribute the pioneering role in sensible traffic control to the first electric traffic light from Cleveland.

If you think about the future of traffic lights on your 100th birthday, you quickly realize that an ideal world would be one without traffic lights. Isn’t everyone talking about the autonomous car? Why does such a moving robot need a traffic light? He could coordinate with the other cars via data exchange (C2C) about who is allowed to enter the intersection and when.

“That is a distant scenario,” says Wilke Reints. Of course he says so, because without traffic lights he wouldn’t have much to do. On the other hand, he points out that in a world without traffic lights, all cars without exception would have to be equipped with the corresponding C2C technology, even the millions of used cars that were built entirely without such technology. "We also have to guide cyclists and pedestrians safely across the street."

So the traffic light has a good chance of being 120 years and older. But you have to save energy. Most signal heads are still equipped with incandescent lamps; for the large specimens that hang far above an intersection and are 30 centimeters in diameter, that’s three times 75 watts.

Chip exchange during operation

Modern traffic lights with LEDs can be built with power consumption down to five watts per color. In addition, incandescent lamps have to be replaced every six months, while LEDs last around half of the traffic light operating time of around 15 years.

In order for the traffic light to remain technically at the best possible level for so long, it needs an update of its software from time to time. Wilke Reints raves when he explains how it works. At the “Intertraffic”, an important trade fair in Amsterdam, Siemens presented the first traffic light that no longer has to be switched off for extensions.

"It’s like playing a new operating system on the iPhone and at the same time swapping the main processor while you are making a call." This is not possible with smartphones and PCs – but in the future it will work with traffic lights. "If you switch off a traffic light, you endanger road users," says Wilke Reints. The longer a traffic light shows nothing, the more the risk of an accident increases.

On the other hand, there is no danger from outside attacks. The data networks of the traffic control centers are not connected to the Internet and are therefore considerably more secure than most people think. “And if someone tries to turn all traffic lights to green to cause chaos, the traffic lights switch off within milliseconds,” says Reints. The usual traffic rules then apply: signs and right before left.

China once wanted to swap red and green

But the thing with the green wave causes the driver more trouble than such Hollywood scenarios. Here, Reints admits, sometimes even the best technology cannot help. "From a subjective point of view, the traffic lights always switch differently, which causes frustration for drivers."

The reason for this is that the traffic lights are usually adapted to the volume of traffic. And of course, it is ultimately urban traffic and environmental policy that determines who is shown red or green and when. As far as the exhaust gases from cars are concerned, it is above all nitrogen oxides (NOx) that can be reduced by clever traffic light switching, because NOx emissions depend heavily on how much is started, slowed down and started again.

This is where the green wave for large “arteries” can help, as Reints says. And of course information to those waiting in the side streets about how long the red phase will last. In this way, drivers would know whether it is worth switching off the engine or – if they are still a short distance away – whether they should roll up quickly or slowly.

It’s a lot to ask of a centenarian. Some of the existing traffic lights can be retrofitted, others not. “The old device may only be able to tell you that it is on. Modern traffic lights will tell us that they saw an emergency stop. "

Despite all the modernization, one thing will remain the same: the color scheme. During the Cultural Revolution, China tried to swap the meanings of red and green – for political reasons, because red shouldn’t stand for stopping, but for advancing. It was a mess, and even the Communist Party learned that you can’t revolutionize everything.

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