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MIT predicts red light runners

Posted by Bill Griffith  December 6, 2011 05:21 PM

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(Christine Daniloff/MIT News)

For those of us who have no idea what an algorithm is, we’re told it’s a step-by-step procedure for calculations used in data processing and automated reasoning.

These processes run any number of the “smart” systems in today’s automotive world.

Now MIT researchers have devised one that can predict when an oncoming car is likely to run a red light. It’s an achievement with the potential to save many lives.

MIT’s report quotes National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures that show 2.3 million crashes occurred at intersections across the country in 2008, resulting in 7,000 deaths. More than 700 of those fatalities were caused by drivers running red lights. And, half of those victims weren’t the law-breaking drivers, but innocent drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

The MIT group used parameters such as the vehicle’s deceleration and distance from the intersection to determine which cars were potential violators— those likely to enter the intersection after a traffic light turned red.

They then tested the algorithm on data collected from an intersection in Virginia, determining that it identified potential violators within a couple of seconds of reaching the light—enough time for other drivers to be able to react if they were alerted. MIT researchers found their program accurate 85 percent of the time with fewer false positives than previous test systems.

Jonathan How, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, says future “smart” cars may use such algorithms to help drivers avoid potential collisions.

How says to implement such warning systems, vehicles need to be able to “talk” to each other wirelessly, something called V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communication.

It’s not just some laboratory theory, either. MIT has worked with Ford on park-assist and cross-traffic alert systems, and the US Department of Transportation and manufacturers have prototypes using V2V technologies being road-tested. The group not only is continuing to work on this system but also planning to adapt it to air traffic control.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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