The future of traffic is smart, autonomous, and congestion-free

Traffic jams are getting worse, costing urban dwellers time and money
A self-driving startup called Pony.ai is testing an autonomous ride-hailing service in Guangzhou, China
Alibaba’s AI-powered system, named City Brain, turns traffic data into actionable information
The architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) designed a cable-car system to reduce traffic congestion in California’s city of Oakland

The urban population is rapidly growing worldwide, bringing with it more vehicles to our roads. But this puts immense pressure on transportation infrastructure and worsens traffic congestion, which is an economic and social problem. In fact, according to data revealed by the transportation consulting firm INRIX, cities like Moscow, Istanbul, and Bogota are among the most congested cities in the world. INRIX’s study, which analysed traffic congestion in 200 cities, also shows that drivers in Bogota wasted 272 hours due to traffic congestion in 2018, while London’s drivers lost 227 hours. What’s more, INRIX estimates that London’s drivers lose $2,199 per year on traffic jams. Despite all this, traffic congestion isn’t unsolvable, and cities are exploring innovative ways to overcome this challenge.

 

Pony.ai is testing an autonomous taxi service

In 2019, Guangzhou, China, became home to a test project developed by the self-driving startup Pony.ai. Its autonomous ride-hailing program, called PonyPilot, covers 50 square kilometres​ of Guangzhou’s Nansha district, including office buildings, commercial plazas, hotels, and residential complexes. The idea is to allow riders to hail driverless cars within the area using only a smartphone app, available through WeChat. During the ride, they can track the vehicle’s location thanks to in-cabin dashboards. Currently, the service is only available to Pony.ai’s employees and select people, but the company is considering making it available to the public in the future.

Besides Guangzhou, Pony.ai is testing similar tech in China’s capital Beijing and in the US city of Fremont, California. But an autonomous taxi service isn’t the only thing that Pony.ai is working on. The company also wants to develop autonomous trucks and freight delivery vehicles. As VentureBeat reports, Pony.ai has already established a team for this project, which began testing the tech on public roads.  

 

An AI system helped China’s Hangzhou to reduce traffic congestion

China is home to another project aiming to solve traffic congestion. The e-commerce giant and tech company Alibaba developed an AI-powered system called City Brain. City Brain collects real-time information across the city of Hangzhou, which includes GPS data and video information gathered from cameras installed at road intersections. The platform then analyses the data and coordinates road signals around the city to ease congestion. The aim of this project is “to create a cloud-based system where information about a city, and as a result everyone in it, is stored and used to control the city”. Thanks to this system, Hangzhou, which used to be the fifth most congested city in China, has now dropped to 57th place.

Alibaba claims that City Brain brought many benefits to Hangzhou’s residents. The platform has shortened commute times and reduced response times for emergency services. It even helped the city’s officials to better track illegal parking. Since the project turned out to be a huge success, it’s also been introduced to other urban areas in China, as well as in Kuala Lumpur. The only thing Alibaba needs to solve is privacy concerns, because many are worried that using cameras could allow this AI-based system to invade their privacy.

 

An electric cable-car system could solve Oakland’s traffic jams and boost its tourism

Despite delivering great results, super-intelligent AI solutions raise scepticism among the public, which is why some cities are opting for less controversial ways to reduce traffic jams. One of those ways has been proposed by the architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The company designed an electric cable-car system for California’s city of Oakland to connect the city centre with a new baseball stadium. The system will be able to transport 6,000 individuals per hour, and during the three-minute ride, each gondola car will be able to carry 35 people. Stations will be equipped with outdoor escalators that lead to the platforms.

The system could help Oakland ease its traffic congestion, particularly during sports events, when the city experiences major congestion. What’s more, it could also attract more visitors to the city and boost its tourism. The project, expected to cost $123 million, will be privately financed, and its completion date is planned for 2023.

 

Emerging tech is the only way to end the traffic nightmare

As cities become more crowded, traffic congestion is worsening. Besides causing frustration, traffic congestion also has a negative impact on the environment. This is forcing cities to turn their attention to innovative solutions to solve this issue. By implementing emerging technologies, cities could lessen road gridlock, improve people’s mobility, and make urban environments more livable for residents.

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