On Aug. 5, 1914, the world’s first electric traffic signal was installed in the United States. Located in Cleveland, the device was an improvement on a traffic light put up in London in 1868 that used two arms to signal. For approximately 150 years, traffic lights have been notifying motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists when it’s safe to venture into an intersection.
But with the advent of autonomous vehicles, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Swiss Institute of Technology, and the Italian National Research Council are exploring more efficient methods to replace traffic lights. Publishing in PLOS One, the international team advocated the use of slot-based systems for intersections, which they believe can double the amount of traffic an intersection can handle all while running more smoothly.
The research was published last week.
“New information and control systems are paving the way to novel traffic management approaches,” wrote the researchers in their study. “For example, vehicles might communicate with roadside infrastructure and other vehicles to produce better-coordinated flows. Furthermore, autonomous driving is starting to enable the careful control of vehicle trajectories and the synchronization of their arrival times at intersections.”
Already, car companies are starting to implement such autonomous technologies in their vehicles. General Motors, with their 2017 Cadillac CTS, plans on introducing Dedicated Short Range Communications, which allows the vehicle to communicate mobility and safety information to other vehicles.
The new MIT principle, dubbed “Light Traffic,” works similarly to the slot-based control systems employed by airports for plane management, according to the researchers. Each vehicle is assigned a time slot, which indicates when it’ll be safe for it to pass through the intersection. Then the vehicle tweaks its speed to ensure it reaches the intersection at the designated time.
“The doubling of bottleneck capacity, as promised by (slot-based intersections), has the potential of significantly reducing overall congestion and improving the stability and predictability of traffic,” said the researchers.
Additionally, slot-based intersections “would probably also have beneficial effects on car emissions, as they would reduce the ‘stop-and-go’ effect induced by traffic light queuing,” the researchers added.
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