LYT is a cloud-based software platform using machine learning and vehicle technologies to solve the problem of traffic flow. You may remember my recent post on Elon Musk’s thoughts on using artificial intelligence to make traffic lights smarter. The problem is that massive amounts of time are lost at a red light, especially during times when there are few vehicles on the roads. Sometimes there are glitches where a light will stay red much longer than it should. I wrote about these problems and Elon’s idea to solve them.
Elon’s solution was a Tesla AI vision device that would help those old traffic lights determine when traffic is heavy or light. It’s a great idea and it turns out someone is already working on it. LYT Founder and CEO, Timothy Menard, joined me for a phone interview to highlight how LYT solves these problems.
Prior to founding LYT, Timothy designed hardware/software simulation systems that autonomously tested the proper functioning of vehicle electronics used in Tesla’s Model S and X vehicles. Prior to working at Tesla as a firmware engineer, Timothy worked on connected vehicle technology at Toyota.
LYT, Timothy explained, is a play on the word light and is inspired by the problem of traffic lights not properly regulating the flow of traffic. This problem, he said, is the one they are focusing on.
“Having worked at Tesla before and having worked at other automotive companies like Toyota, I worked on the challenge of how to use vehicle data for traffic and traffic management. It always blew me away that even with mapping, traffic lights were kind of ignored.
“And, remember the early days of Google Maps? We were all using it and we were like ‘oh, my ETA is ten minutes’, but you’re like ‘that’s not true, it’s 15’, and it’s because I’m going to run 30 red lights on the trip, and it always amazed me that they never took any notice.
He explained that when he started his work in academia, he came to the conclusion that we all felt the pain of it. He told me the systems are extremely simple, with a little sensor in the ground, and if you’re not exactly above that sensor or if it’s broken, he has no idea what happens.
“That’s sort of the reason I went back and started LYT. We have so many connected devices; why do we still not have the street connected? Why don’t they still know what’s going on when you and I can pull out our phones and we can find out what’s going on next to us, another state, across the world, but our traffic lights can’t even not understand that there is a car waiting to go there. And then we have to make a dangerous problem even worse.
“How do you think it’s when an emergency responder has to knowingly blow through a light that’s doing them no favors, or someone who’s stuck on a bus?”
This problem affects everyone: motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users. For example, a pedestrian could cross the street instead of waiting indefinitely for the traffic light to change. I was here. I think we have all been there at least once in our lives.
Timothy explained that we continue to build on the engineering of the 1950s and 1960s, and that today’s generation is moving from car mindset to adoption other modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport.
“Now we come back to people who want to walk and cycle. Scooters have rejuvenated how fun it is to not always ride. We have so many cars on the road now that it’s not even fun to drive. You are one of many who are all at that kind of young age where we didn’t grow up with the glory days of cars and the open road.
“First of all, we don’t know what an open road is. They are all full.
What sets LYT apart
Timothy shared the concept of how LYT works and how it’s actually a tool that cities can use to speed up traffic a bit.
“Recognizing that there are all of these ways of communicating and operating, I left what I was doing on the automotive side to try to come and help our cities and get that same data.
“What makes LYT different from others is that LYT looks at it from the perspective that everyone is already connected and the bird’s eye view really tells you everything that’s going on – everything in the street, the city and region. And not only to solve problems that arise late at night, but also to solve all traffic jams throughout the day. With all mobility needs, you need to do more than just detect problems that have already occurred. You need to be prepared and know what is going to happen.
“Instead, we’ve built our cloud-based platform that connects what cities have already invested in. They have their own systems in place. They have computers that they can sit in front of and check and see what’s going on on the streets except they don’t have to do it manually anymore while driving outside and that’s a lot of access . If they had a bit of vehicle data and if the vehicles had a bit of street data, we would all go a little faster.
Timothy told me they had great success deploying LYT on the West Coast. Cities such as Fremont, San Francisco, other northern California cities, cities in Oregon, and cities in Washington use LYT’s platform.
“We had a long-term deployment in San Jose, the city of Fremont, the SF/Bay area, as well as the Peninsula; and the Sacramento area – those are where we started.
“We’ve been able to help underserved communities that rely on public transit get where they need to go 20% faster. We have been able to significantly improve emergency response. The thing does not change the light green – it can be done. It’s knowing when to change the light green. It’s the difference between waiting 30 seconds and 20 minutes.
Timothy explained that he wanted to show cities that they can do better without having to penalize people. In Northern California, LYT was able to show the entire community that the slowest vehicles in emergency response saw their response time increase by 70%.
“Which is phenomenal because something that could take eight minutes in traffic has been reduced to three minutes. I’m sure everyone wants emergency help as soon as possible. And we were able to show it thanks to the data.
The technology used by many cities to regulate traffic is old. Timothy described it as going back to the 90s with your floppy disk.
“You have to export an Excel spreadsheet into the real traffic light and bring it back to your desktop and then look at it all, and by the time you get there, it could be months since that data was relevant. So you can’t not really fixing things that happen unless you’re there.
Expansion to other states
I asked Timothy if there were any expansion plans in states other than the West Coast. He explained that there are expansion plans not only in the United States, but that LYT is designed for international use.
“It was built to be able to be used nationally and internationally. We all have to travel everywhere.
LYT would also help cities that are on the front lines of climate change. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, cities like Baton Rouge, Houston and even Atlanta all took in evacuees. Here in Baton Rouge, the population has grown dramatically, but the road infrastructure hasn’t quite matched the population growth. We need help before another disaster occurs.
Disaster Response Aid
LYT would be a great tool for cities that are doubling in population and those that are on the front lines of receiving evacuees from natural disasters. Many states that frequently experience hurricanes have hurricane evacuation routes. Having traffic lights that can know and understand when an evacuation is taking place would be extremely helpful during a hurricane.
“We now have communities working with us asking how can we capture these types of events? You and I have access to the Weather Channel. What if the software helps connect city streets with existing sensors? , then they too can know and a city can roll out a response plan with some confidence.
LYT gives cities a voice
Timothy pointed out that LYT is once again giving a voice to people in traffic, whether they are driving, walking or cycling.
“LYT gives them a voice. You don’t have to accept what is sort of the status quo. There are other changes. We grew up with this way of looking at traffic lights – “well, that’s the way it is”. LYT is something you can ask your community today. It’s not something that takes years to unfold.
“You can go and talk with your community and they can probably be online within 30-35 days. They already have systems in place that can connect. It’s not something we’ll need the world to turn on It can happen and it can happen now.
He added that on the subject of emergency response, LYT has been demonstrated in several communities. You can learn more about Fremont’s LYT deployment and its emergency response preemption here.
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