We're all aware of how technology has been employed to make driving and cars safer and yet faster, and even how lasers might be used to display ads at traffic lights, but so far not much has been done to solve the single biggest problem of driving in a heavily populated area: traffic. The Aldis Corporation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the U.S. may have something that could change that, however.

The technology uses a system based around a single, 360-degree fish-eye camera and some sophisticated software that hopes to be able to convert traffic signals from simple robotic automatons into thinking, problem-solving traffic directors. For instance, if the camera detects a single vehicle traveling toward a red light but no traffic is traveling the other direction, it will change the signal in time to keep the car from having to stop, reports The Detroit News.

But the system might be even more useful under heavy traffic loads, where it could allow a single heavy-traffic street to maintain flow while also letting cross-street traffic circulate in the gaps. By keeping as much traffic as possible flowing smoothly and minimizing unnecessary stops and waits at traffic signals, the system could significantly reduce emissions and fuel use - not to mention commute times.

The safety implications are even more promising. If the system sees a car approaching an intersection and calculates that it will not stop in time for the red light, it will hold the cross traffic a few moments longer to prevent collisions. A long view of this type of technology includes a future of automated cars running in an automated traffic system.

It sounds like science fiction, but Honda envisioned a very similar scenario two years ago with its idea of GPS-enabled side-mirror mounted 'car cams' feeding a central computer system with up-to-the-minute traffic data of an entire city's streets. Microsoft's ClearFlow traffic-avoidance service is another take on a similar theme, though from a more opportunistic individualist perspective than from the cooperative group angle taken by Honda.

Aldis Corp. has the system in testing now and expects to have working product by next year.