New traffic light technology helps ease congestion

Technology brings Houston-area suburb one step closer to driverless cars

By Sara Donchey - Anchor/Reporter, Debbie Strauss - Special Projects Producer, Dawn Jorgenson

HOUSTON - Whether you live in Katy, the Woodlands, Friendswood or Baytown, the morning commute can be painfully long as you sit in traffic waiting for lights to turn green.

What if you got a heads up, hundreds of feet from the intersection, letting you know when the red light will change? It's already possible for people living in one Houston-area suburb, and it's bringing people in that community one step closer to driverless cars.

There's a big push for people to get off the grid, cut the cord and let go of landlines, but when it comes to driving and traffic, it's the exact opposite.

Cities are now partnering with car companies to get hooked into the infrastructure, and the so-called "smart cities" are really starting to take off in Texas.

The idea: Connect your car and get traffic moving.

In places like Frisco, north of Dallas, traffic engineers can already remotely control signal lights. That information is then fed to cars.

"What the driver is going to be able to see initially is, how much longer is the light going to be red?" said Brian Moen, with the city of Frisco engineering services.

The same technology is now making its way to Sugar Land.

"It's the people. We keep getting more people," said James Meyer, who has lived in Sugar Land for years. "It's grown fast. There's a lot of time you’re wondering, 'How long will this light last?'"

When certain Audi cars come in range of connected traffic lights, right on the dashboard the car tells drivers just how long they'll have to wait for the next green light.

KPRC Channel 2 News took the new traffic light technology out for a test drive. It was accurate to the second when it said the light would turn green.

In Sugar Land, the cars and traffic lights are synched on Eldridge and Dulles.

Traffic lights are already connected in other cities like Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

It's not just a lot of fun to watch. Smart city technologies are an important step toward a future filled with driverless cars.

"When we talk about autonomous vehicles, these are the things that we need to really work on it, develop and perfect and get better so we can begin to get those vehicles to work that way on the roadway," Moen said.

Another benefit of the technology? One day it could be used help you make better decisions on where to go and how to get there, cutting down on your commute time.

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