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Can AI solve Seattle's traffic woes? Google thinks so

The city of Seattle is the first in the United States to work with Google on a new traffic light system, using artificial intelligence.

"It's a solution that they can deploy to an intersection within five minutes," said Juliet Rothenberg, product lead at Google's Climate AI. "It requires no construction, and no integration."

The effort incorporates AI and data from Google Maps, then gives the Seattle Department of Transportation suggestions on how to fix traffic jams.

The tech giant has launched "Project Green Light" in 13 different cities on four continents. Seattle is the first city in North America where it is being used.

Rothenberg notes that the new technology is quick, and much cheaper than other transportation solutions that require new construction.

"They might spend thousands, even ten-thousands of dollars of installing sensors in an intersection," Rothenberg said.

RELATED: Can AI reduce traffic deaths? These Seattle engineers are putting it to the test

Project Green Light can scan for significantly more traffic hot spots compared to existing methods. This gives city engineers more capacity to address high-traffic areas. It can also recognize when intersections nearby each other are not coordinating, contributing to a traffic jam.

"You'll have a lot of traffic going through the first intersection just to get stopped at the second intersection. Let's change that," Rothenberg said. "We can have traffic flowing smoothly through both simultaneously."

Changes can be as little as adding three seconds of extra green light time. Rothenberg said Project Green Light will recommend "these types of changes and even just those few seconds can have a big impact." According to early studies, up to 30% of stops can be reduced when using suggestions from Project Green Light.

The AI tech could also cut up to 10% of CO2 emissions at intersections.

"Transportation is responsible for a significant fraction of global emissions, especially in the U.S." Rothenberg said. "People don't realize that emissions at intersections are 29 times higher compared to open roads. Half of the emissions at intersections comes from traffic accelerating after stopping. If you can reduce stop-and-go traffic, you can have a big impact for drivers and also the planet."

Suggestions produced by Project Green Light have already been implemented in Seattle. One location is the 15th Avenue Northwest corridor in Ballard. Two traffic signals were optimized on 53rd Street and 55th Street, during limited hours on weekdays. Rothenberg said traffic flow has improved, and can be felt through 65th Street.

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