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Increasing Fuel Efficiency With a Smartphone

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Previous experimental traffic-light advisory systems used GPS data or data from traffic sensors, but SignalGuru uses visual data from cellphone cameras.

Credit: Courtesy of Christine Daniloff

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton University have developed SignalGuru, a system that uses a network of smartphones mounted on a car dashboard to collect information about traffic signals and to tell drivers when slowing down could help them avoid waiting at lights.

By reducing the need to idle and accelerate from a complete stop, the system can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent. SignalGuru relies on images captured by a smartphone's camera. The researchers say the system's computing infrastructure could be adapted for several applications, including information about prices at different gas stations, locations and rates of progress of city buses, or the availability of parking spaces in urban areas.

The researchers, led by MIT professor Li-Shiuan Peh and visiting researcher Emmanouil Koukoumidis, launched SignalGuru as part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology's Future Urban Mobility program. The researchers tested SignalGuru in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in suburban Singapore with error rates ranging from just two-thirds of a second for fixed-schedule lights, to about two seconds for lights that change based on the traffic flow.

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