Enter the maze

How standing still can help keep us moving

some motorway lights at night

It sounds like a riddle: what’s long, thin, doesn’t move but can help keep the traffic flowing? The answer’s a smart streetlight.

Car congestion causes stress and adds to pollution, and although mobile satnav systems in cars can be clever about working out the best ways to avoid the jams, they have to get the right information to make their decisions. But where does this information about local road conditions come from? Researchers in the Cambridge Computing Laboratory have come up with a dazzling idea, using the existing streetlights. Their smart streetlight design turns an existing streetlight into a traffic sensor.

The Intelligent Lamp Post not only lights the street but uses infrared sensors to monitor the traffic flow. Drivers and road planners can then use the information the ILP has gathered. The ILP can be added to the existing streetlamps, saving on costs, and it makes use of the electrical power that’s already there. In the future these tall and clever lampposts could also monitor pollution in the area or even provide a limited WiFi service. Quite a bright idea really.