Stellenbosch tests student's high-tech solution to traffic congestion

A Stellenbosch University student has come up with technology that will allow traffic lights to adapt to the flow of traffic.
A Stellenbosch University student has come up with technology that will allow traffic lights to adapt to the flow of traffic.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

A master's degree student at Stellenbosch University has come up with a solution to traffic congestion on the town’s main transport artery – a high tech solution that will make traffic signals smarter.

Wilko Mohr developed the sophisticated‚ tailor-made real-time computerised control system‚ which will use cameras to synchronise traffic signals along the busy R44.

He said: “With a problem such as traffic congestion‚ a 'hard engineering' solution would be to build more roads‚ but 'soft engineering' could potentially have the same impact‚ only much faster and more affordably. Real-time traffic adaptive signal control holds significant potential for developing countries."

Stellenbosch University said in a statement that the project would initially cover eight intersections and would be tested in the first quarter of 2019.

“Traffic congestion has become a major problem for us. We are working on various solutions and are fortunate to have the university on our doorstep‚” Deon Louw‚ Stellenbosch Municipality's director for infrastructure services‚ said at a Rector-Mayor Forum meeting earlier this month. “In essence‚ we would like to provide a 'living laboratory'‚ where researchers can come up with solutions to the challenges of our town and surrounds."

Stellenbosch University master's student Wilko Mohr (left) and Stellenbosch Municipality's Deon Louw at a traffic light on one of the intersections in the R44 through town where a new traffic flow system will be piloted.
Stellenbosch University master's student Wilko Mohr (left) and Stellenbosch Municipality's Deon Louw at a traffic light on one of the intersections in the R44 through town where a new traffic flow system will be piloted.
Image: Justin Alberts

Partnering with the municipality is the Stellenbosch Smart Mobility Lab (SSML)‚ a unit of the university’s department of civil engineering‚ which is headed by Johann Andersen‚ who specialises in intelligent transport systems. He is supported by Megan Bruwer‚ a lecturer in transport engineering and Mohr's supervisor.

“Our longstanding collaboration with the municipality is a great way for us to expose our students to real-life challenges in order to prepare them for the world of work. Plus‚ they are actually making a positive impact with the research and practical work they do‚" said Andersen.

Explaining how the system would work‚ he said: “A combination of new cameras at intersections and existing electromagnetic loops beneath the road surface will detect traffic volume and flow. This data is then fed into the system‚ which will automatically adjust the traffic signals to get the traffic moving optimally‚ based on an algorithm that Wilko is refining. What makes this different from existing systems is that human intervention will be minimised."

Mohr is on a postgraduate bursary funded by the municipality.

It will be the first application in Africa of software developed by the PTV Group‚ a German company regarded as a global leader in the field. The new system will link up with the existing traffic light controllers supplied by Syntell‚ a South African technology company. Data used for the computer modelling is partially being provided by the international navigation company TomTom.

The PTV software is being operated successfully in countries such as Germany and Dubai. A pilot project in India‚ along a 3km route‚ saw travel time decrease by 26%‚ and queue length by 37%.

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