London is overhauling traffic lights to give streets back to pedestrians

14 Dec 2018

Image: © IRStone/

On the 150th anniversary of the installation of the world’s first traffic light in London, the city plans to make the system far more democratic.

On 10 December 1868, Bridge Street in London made history with the installation of the world’s first traffic light, starting a process that would rapidly relegate the pedestrian to a second-class citizen of the street.

Where once the pedestrian could walk across the street freely with little hassle, we now find ourselves waiting patiently until the green person tells us it’s safe to cross. But, as Wired pointed out this week, that’s all changing in London.

As it reports, Transport for London (TfL) has been installing a number of sensors, automation and cameras at traffic lights across the city in recent years to speed up this waiting process.

Using a system called SCOOT – standing for Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique – TfL deploys cameras and electromagnetic footplates under the pavement just before the crossing to see how busy they are. Once a crowd builds up, the sensors activate the lights to get people moving.

“Through small, quick changes you can achieve significant and measurable improvements in the pedestrian experience by optimising the operation of existing crossings,” said Richard Lambert, London manager of campaign group Living Streets. “This isn’t about putting in new crossings, it’s looking at existing ones.”

IoT backpacks on bees prove to be pretty useful

Bees and the internet of things (IoT) seem to be regularly intertwined, with their workhorse-like nature making them great candidates for researching large areas of land. Now, the University of Washington is recruiting them again to carry sensors to collect data on the fields they visit.

According to the university, the technology is called the Living IoT backpack and is much more sophisticated than many other sensors on bees that work using RFID antennas. With an integrated bunch of sensors and battery, it can run for seven hours straight.

“We showed for the first time that it’s possible to actually do all this computation and sensing using insects in lieu of drones,” said Shyam Gollakota, who led the research team. “We decided to use bumblebees because they’re large enough to carry a tiny battery that can power our system, and they return to a hive every night where we could wirelessly recharge the batteries.”

V2V comms tools set for major boost by 2023

A new report from Juniper Research has revealed that more than 62m vehicles will be capable of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication by 2023, rising from more than 1.1m in 2019. This represents an average annual growth rate of 173pc over these four years, with future growth to be driven by the roll-out of 5G networks, anticipated to start in the beginning of 2019.

In the US alone, the report predicts that more than 60pc of new vehicles will have V2V capabilities by 2023, possibly preventing as many as 9,300 deaths each year.

“The safety benefits of V2V are clear; however, no incumbent technology can provide the network conditions across the entirety of road networks,” said research author Sam Barker. “5G will be the key facilitating technology of these automotive safety features; however, long vehicle refresh rates, typically around eight and 12 years, will hinder mass adoption.”

Moscow launches new smart district for 8,000 people

Rather than taking the approach of creating a smart district in an undeveloped part of a city, Moscow’s government has done things differently by creating one in an already inhabited area.

In April of this year, authorities began installing technologies in selected buildings situated in the Maryino district in the south-east of Moscow, with the 2,044 apartments capable of housing around 8,000 people.

The city has already installed its first charging station for electric vehicles, with free Wi-Fi available throughout the district. Russian telecoms operator Beeline has also launched a test site for developers of narrowband IoT capable of connecting up to 10,000 devices for each of the two base stations.

“We didn’t want to build a district from a scratch as a testbed far from real-world settings,” said Andrey Belozerov, strategy and innovations adviser to the CIO of Moscow. “Our aim was to test technologies in [an] inhabited neighbourhood so it allows us to see whether citizens get advantage of new technologies in their everyday tasks.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic