AI system changes traffic lights to speed ambulances through congested city streets

Ambulances are sometimes failing to hit their response times because roads in large cities have become increasingly congested.

Across the UK, ambulance services are required to attend 75% of life-threatening cases within eight minutes to guarantee NHS funding and avoid fines. But many struggle to meet this target and resources are already stretched due to ageing demographics, a growing population and continual public health cuts, says design and technology company Red Ninja.

To tackle this problem, the Liverpool-based firm is developing an intelligent transport system that can clear a route for ambulances on emergency calls.

The company received a £222,000 grant from the UK Government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, in 2016 to help accelerate its Life First Emergency Traffic Control (LiFE) project.

After analysing big data around the way traffic lights are used to control congestion, the Red Ninja team realised that they could manipulate traffic almost in real time. They then used artificial intelligence (AI) to develop an algorithm that could create a clear run through the traffic.

According to Innovate UK, the system integrates ambulance route-finder applications with city traffic management systems, enabling ambulances to reach emergency cases more quickly.

Consultant Peter Jones, who previously worked for Liverpool City Council and is now on the LiFE project advisory board, said: “We used to connect to the traffic lights via modems, which are incredibly old fashioned things. Now we have routers, which means there is a huge capacity there for data and we’re only using an incredibly tiny amount.”

Describing the LiFE technology, Jones said: “Imagine if we had some software that guesses the route [the] ambulance will take initially and then the first set of traffic lights it would turn them green straight away. Then figure out where [the] ambulance is, when it is going but with a five-second resolution that could change at any time so it should be a really adaptable system. This is the complex algorithm LiFE team is working on.”

The LiFE project also involves the Future Cities Catapult, the Transport Systems Catapult and Imtech Traffic & Infra UK Ltd, now called Dynniq.

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