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Avoiding red lights saves gas

By Tara Baukus Mello ·
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Posted: 10 am ET

It's common sense that the steadier speed you drive your car, the better your fuel economy -- hence the reason why gas mileage at higher speeds is higher for almost all cars than city driving. One would think that it's impossible to dramatically improve gas mileage in the city thanks to all the traffic lights that require drivers to stop and then accelerate when the light turns green. Yet a new report by a group of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, and Princeton University shows that gas mileage can be improved by an average of 20 percent simply by driving to avoid stopping at red lights using a smartphone-based red-light predictor.

The software program, called SignalGuru, uses the camera feature of smartphones mounted on the cars' dashboard as well as a central computer database to determine the current traffic light status and predict its future pattern. Researchers said that the cars involved in the test saved an average of 20.3 percent in fuel consumed. The system is designed to work in areas where traffic lights operate on a set schedule that doesn't change, the method used for about 96 percent of traffic light systems in the U.S.

Researchers created the software and the study as a way to demonstrate that emissions from greenhouse gases could be greatly reduced by improving fuel economy in cars without making any design changes to the cars themselves. Researchers chose their methods due to a new trend for drivers to use their smartphones for GPS navigation in their cars and mount them to the dashboard in much the way portable GPS devices are used. While the study was simply a test to determine the technology's viability and usefulness, researchers say that a commercial version of SignalGuru could be developed for the U.S. market and could also integrate other data, such as traffic as well as parking availability and gas prices in the driver's immediate area, making it easier to determine if driving to a cheaper gas station will save you money.

Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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1 Comment
Bernard billings
September 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

This is typical geekie MIT bolloxs. Why dont these kids focus on important technology not this pile of steaming internet feculent.