LYT is a cloud-based software platform using vehicle and machine learning technologies to solve the problem of traffic flow. You may remember my recent article on Elon Musk’s thoughts regarding the use of artificial intelligence to make traffic lights smarter. The problem is that massive amounts of time are wasted 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 for far longer than it should. I wrote about these issues and Elon’s idea to solve them.
Elon’s solution was a Tesla AI vision device that would help these old traffic lights determine when traffic is heavy or light. It’s a great idea and it turns out someone is already working on this. Founder and CEO of LYT, Timothy Menard, joined me on a call for an interview to highlight how LYT is solving these problems.
Before founding LYT, Timothy designed hardware/software simulation systems that autonomously tested the proper functionality of vehicle electronics used in Tesla’s Model S and X vehicles. Before 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 correctly regulating the flow of traffic. This problem, he said, is where they are placing their focus.
“Having worked at Tesla before and having worked at other automotive companies like Toyota, I’ve worked on the challenge of how do you use vehicle data for traffic and traffic management. It always just blew me away that even with mapping, traffic lights were kind of disregarded.
“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 right, it’s 15,’ and that’s because I’m gonna hit like 30 red lights on the trip. And it always blew my mind that they never accounted for that.”
He explained that when he began his work in academia, he came to the conclusion that we’ve all felt the pain of this. He told me that the systems are extremely simple, with a little sensor in the ground, and if you’re not exactly over that sensor or it’s broken, it has no idea what’s happening.
“That’s kind of why I went back and started LYT. We have so many connected devices; why do we still not have the street-connected? Why do they still not know what’s going on when you and I can pull out our phone and we can find out what’s happening next to us, another state, across the world, but our traffic lights still can’t even figure out there’s a car waiting to go. And then we’ve got to make an unsafe problem even worse.
“How do you think it is when an emergency response has to knowingly blow through a light that’s not doing it any service, or someone who’s stuck on a bus?”
This problem affects everyone — drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and those using public transportation. For example, a pedestrian might jaywalk instead of waiting forever for the light to change. I’ve been there. I think we’ve all been there at least once in our lives.
Timothy spoke of how we are still developing based on the engineering of the 1950s and 1960s, and today’s generation is moving from the car-only mindset to embracing other modes of transportation such as walking, biking, and taking public transportation.
“Now we’re going back to people wanting to walk and bike. Scooters rejuvenated how fun it is to not just always drive. We’ve got so many cars on the road now it’s not even fun to drive. You’re one of the many that are all on this 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’re all full.”
What Sets LYT Apart
Timothy shared the concept of how LYT works and how it is actually a tool cities can use to help make traffic flow a bit faster.
“Recognizing that there are all these ways of communicating and operating, I left what I was doing on the automotive side to try to come and help our cities out and get that same data.
“What makes LYT different from others is that LYT’s looking at it from the perspective that everyone’s already connected and the bird’s eye view really tells you everything that’s going on — everything throughout the street, city, and region. And to not only solve the issues that happen late at night, but solve all the congestion throughout the day. With all the needs of mobility, you’ve got to be more than just detecting problems that already happened. You need to be prepared and know what’s going to happen.
“Instead, we built our cloud-based platform that connects what cities have already invested in. They have their own systems onsite. They’ve got computers that they can sit at and check and see what’s going on on the streets, except they don’t have to do it manually by driving outside anymore and that’s a whole lot of access. If they had a little bit of vehicle data and if vehicles had a little bit of street data, we’d all move a little bit faster.”
Deployment of LYT
Timothy told me that they’ve had a lot of success deploying LYT on the West Cost. Cities such as Fremont, San Francisco, other cities in northern California, cities in Oregon, and cities in Washington have been using LYT’s platform.
“We’ve had a long-term deployment in San Jose, City of Fremont, in the SF/Bay Area, and the peninsula as well; and the Sacramento area — these have been the places we started.
“We’ve been able to help underserved communities that rely on transit to be able to get to where they need to go 20% faster. We’ve been able to significantly improve emergency response. The thing is not changing the light green–that can be done. It’s knowing when to change the light green. That’s the difference between you waiting 30 seconds and 20 minutes.”
Timothy explained that he wanted to show the cities that they can do this better without having to penalize people. In Northern California, LYT has been able to show throughout the community that the slowest moving vehicles in emergency response have seen 70% increases in response time.
“Which is phenomenal because something that could take eight minutes in traffic was reduced to three minutes. I’m pretty sure everyone wants emergency assistance as fast as possible. And we’ve been able to show that through data.”
The technology that many cities use for regulating traffic flow is old. Timothy described it as going back to the ’90s with your floppy disk.
“You’ve gotta go export an Excel spreadsheet in the actual traffic light and take it back to your desk and then look at it all, and by the time you get around to it, it might be months since that data was relevant. So, you can’t really fix things that are happening then unless you’re there.”
Expansion To Other States
I asked Timothy if there were plans for expansions to other states besides the West Coast. He explained that there are plans to expand not just within the US, but that LYT is built for international use.
“This was built so that it could be used nationwide and internationally. We’ve all got to travel everywhere.”
LYT would also help cities that are on the frontlines of climate change. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, cities such as Baton Rouge, Houston, even Atlanta, all took in evacuees. Here in Baton Rouge, the population has increased greatly, yet the road infrastructure hasn’t quite matched the population growth. We need help before another disaster hits.
Helping With Disaster Response
LYT would be a great tool for cities that are doubling in population and those on the frontlines to receive evacuees from natural disasters. Many states that get hurricanes frequently have hurricane evacuation routes. Having traffic lights be able to know and understand when an evacuation is taking place would be extremely helpful during a hurricane.
“We have communities now that are working with us and asking us how can we capture these types of events? You and I both have access to the Weather Channel. And if the software is helping to connect the city streets with the sensors that exist, then they too can know and a city can deploy a response plan with some assurance.”
LYT Gives Cities A Voice
Timothy pointed out that LYT is giving those in traffic — whether they are driving, walking, or cycling — a voice again.
“LYT gives them a voice again. You don’t have to accept what’s kind of been the status quo. There are other changes. We’ve grown up with this way of looking at traffic lights — ‘well, that’s the way it is.’ LYT is something that you can ask your community for today. This isn’t something that takes years to deploy.
“You can go speak with your community and they can probably be online within 30–35 days. They already have systems in place that can connect. This isn’t something that we’re going to need the world to rotate on. It can happen and it can happen now.”
He added that on the emergency response topic, LYT has been demonstrated in several communities. You can read more about Fremont’s LYT deployment and its emergency response preemption here.