Most traffic intersections in the U.S. operate on technology that was invented a century ago – the simple timer. That's right. In a world where AI manages who we chat to, where we shop for clothes, how we access food, the way we move is still programmed based on traffic flow estimates for certain times of the day. An Israeli startup thinks it can change that.
The AI-based traffic management platform, aptly named NoTraffic, has just raised $17.5 million in a Series A that it will use to support its "rapid scale" of deployments. The company says it will be expanding into dozens of U.S. cities during the second half of this year, and hopes to move into European and Asian markets, as well.
Tal Kreisler, co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that NoTraffic also plans to double its team, surpassing 60 employees by the end of the year and reaching 100 during 2022, which will help it reach its goal of further developing its products and AI capabilities.
AI-enabled traffic systems are the stuff of smart cities, and there are many Chinese companies leading the way with similar tech, in large part because the Chinese government has backed the installation of cameras and 5G towers. For example, Alibaba's City Brain tracks more than 1,000 traffic lights in Hangzhou, a city of 10 million people, and has been successful in reducing congestion and making way for first responders. The tech giant also recently crushed its competition from nearly 40 nations, alongside Baidu, in a recent AI City Challenge. While some worry about China's tech advancing a surveillance state, NoTraffic says data from its sensors is anonymized and will improve traffic flow, reduce congestion and minimize wait times.
A handful of cities in Arizona, Ohio and California have already implemented NoTraffic's platform, which involves retrofitting intersections with NoTraffic's sensors and IoT, a feat the company claims can be done "in less than two hours."
On each traffic light, NoTraffic installs four AI-based sensors that combine computer vision and radar and have a built-in V2X chip which communicates with a nearby mounted "optimization engine" so that the traffic light can make decisions in real time. The platform can detect, categorize and track all road users while determining factors like how many cars are in each lane, how many cars will join from the previous intersection, which path will each car take and how will that impact the next intersection, according to Kreisler. Those computations and decisions are done on the edge, while the synchronization of individual intersections happens on the cloud so the grid can react to real-time road conditions. Kreisler says NoTraffic uses its proprietary software to provide support, updates and upgrades over the air.
"Our algorithm is similar to how you play chess and look few moves ahead," he said. "If you’ve seen The Queen’s Gambit, there’s this scene where Liz is lying in bed, looking at the ceiling and starts calculating possible moves (scenarios) per each decision she and her opponent will make. We essentially do something very similar: start from the current state of the intersection and run hundreds of thousands of simulations or ‘what if’ scenarios on different changes to the traffic light and pick the best scenario every second."
The company claims its automated system can drop wait times in half, remove 26,000 tons of emissions and save motorists 4,655 months of time per year stuck in traffic jams, according to a statement from NoTraffic. Kreisler said these numbers come from pilot programs the company ran in Arizona and California in shadow mode, analyzing the data before and after to surface these data points.
The $17.5 million Series A was led by Nielsen Ventures, a fund founded by former Uber and Dropbox executive and Balderton Capital GP, Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen and VEKTOR Partners.
Leading early-stage venture capital investment firm Grove Ventures, insurance leader Menora Mivtachim Group and Meitav Dash, as well as existing investors like lool ventures, Next Gear Ventures and North First Ventures also participated. Lior Handelsman, one of the founders of Solar Edge, an energy manager system, will join the company's board.