Driving and phones aren’t exactly a welcomed combination. Texting and driving is a no-no, while talking on the phone without a Bluetooh headset can result in a huge fine. But a joint research team from Princeton and MIT has recently discovered that a smartphone might be beneficial to your overall driving experience. Through much research and real-life tests, they’ve found that having a smartphone while you’re driving may actually improve fuel efficiency by 20% using a fuel-saving system in cars that relies on dash-mounted devices. Called the “SignalGuru,” the system monitors and logs the timing of traffic signals to alert drivers so that they can slow down and avoid idling at lights. Idling at stop lights and then accelerating fast actually sucks up gas faster, thus decreasing fuel efficiency.

So how does this new system work, you wonder? Well, it relies on images that are captured by the phone’s camera, which it then analyzes to predict when traffic lights will change. Somehow, the SignalGuru is capable of working with both fixed-schedule traffic lights and on those that vary based on the traffic flow. The only downside to this new system is its light-predicting accuracy since it varies depending on how many cars have the system. The more cars that have it, the more accurate the readings are.

According to researchers the computing infrastructure that the system is based on could also be adapted to a wide range of applications. For instance, the camera could capture information about prices at different gas stations, about the locations and rates of progress of city buses, or about the availability of parking spaces in urban areas—which all are useful to commuters.

While still in its testing phase, if developed for commercial use, the system would probably use audio prompts and be built to work with existing routing software and most likely be a purchased application.

Kristie Bertucci

Kristie Bertucci is an L.A.-based writer, who can't live without her MacBook Pro. When she's not writing, she's either reading or shopping (online, of course) and loves lazy days so she can catch up on her DVR-recorded shows and movies. She's definitely a Mac girl, she loves music and is currently on a mission to to have an insane and enviable iTunes library.