Thursday 23 Mar 2023

AI-managed traffic signals: Are these the need of hour?


Goa appears to have taken a giant leap into the future and introduced Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based cameras at traffic signals. The first such experiment has been initiated at the busy Merces junction. Now, here is what the cameras will do. They will help ease traffic congestion by sensing the overload in lanes, create a green corridor for ambulance and emergency services and generate e-challans for traffic violations. Another plus point is the cameras will help in security cases since the footage captured is of high resolution.

AI  is expected to drastically cut down peak wait-time at traffic-heavy junctions and reduce the manpower engaged in policing road traffic. The 16 locations where AI cameras are subsequently expected to make their presence would similarly help in better traffic management. The AI-driven system is a step forward from the traditional traffic signal system.

But what about the cost? The State government has hired a Bengaluru-based company named Beltech to work on the project, and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has stated that Beltech invested Rs 40 lakh in the project. What is also known is that the operations come at a zero cost to the government. However, PWD Minister Nilesh Cabral disclosed a revenue-sharing agreement between Beltech and the State government on a 70:30 ratio. This means Beltech will pocket 70 per cent of the money collected, leaving the State government with a meagre 30 per cent.

A dummy run at the Merces junction saw the AI system booking around 3,000 violators in a month. In money terms, this would translate into lakhs. The cumulative figure at the 15 other locations where such technology will be installed subsequently would be staggering. The question is whether such a revenue-sharing system is justified on a project that is not necessarily the need of the hour.

We must understand that more than facilitating traffic at signal points, the priority is to cut down on road accidents, and a better traffic-signal management will not help that cause.

While there is congestion at specific traffic signals like Merces, Porvorim and a few others, these are not critical to road safety issues nor relate directly to the safety of motorists. All the AI-controlled systems will do is provide seamless traffic management and track the violator.

Unfortunately, the AI control will be restricted to an area that is pre-defined, beyond which it is powerless. The bottom line is most road violations are not reported at traffic signals where vehicles are at a standstill while one or two lanes remain active. Violations of over-speeding and rash and negligent driving, which are the major causes of accidents, happen on wider or longer stretches of roads that are currently not manned. If AI cameras are to be introduced to minimize road accidents, they should be installed in accident-prone zones or roads susceptible to mishaps. Installing them at traffic signals should have been last on the priority list.

We must get our priorities right. Better management of traffic signals or saving time is not crucial at this point; saving lives is. It's time minds are applied to making roads safer rather than mindlessly soaking in the mere thrill of introducing technology.

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