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Self-driving Cars Could Make Tickets and Traffic Lights Obsolete

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【Summary】Simulations during the study showed that smart, autonomous cars utilize 19 to 22 percent less fuel, compared to conventional vehicles.

Michael Cheng    Nov 09, 2018 6:00 AM PT
Self-driving Cars Could Make Tickets and Traffic Lights Obsolete
author: Michael Cheng   

Automotive experts believe autonomous cars will make daily commutes smoother and roads, less congested in the future. Furthermore, the arrival of self-driving vehicles could make traffic lights and annoying tickets obsolete.

But exactly how can autonomous vehicles provide these benefits?

A ground-breaking study from the University of Delaware (in collaboration with Boston University and University of Virginia) offers insights about the efficiency of driverless cars and their potential effects on traditional road infrastructure. According to researchers, self-driving cars with connected features could leverage their ability to communicate with other vehicles on the road in order to make efficient driving decisions.  

Coordinating Traffic Patterns

Using control theory, scientists developed algorithms that require very little to no input from human drivers. The group tested their solutions on autonomous and connected vehicles at a busy intersection with lacking infrastructure, such as traffic lights. During the trial, automotive software was applied to generate simulations and results. Scientists also used the UD Scaled Smart City (UDSSC) test bed to support their theory. UDSSC is a scaled-down environment for researchers to engage in automotive trials on a micro level.

"We're replicating city driving, about 30 miles per hour, using algorithms and trying to even out traffic flows," explained Andreas Malikopoulos, a researcher and principal investigator from the University of Delaware (Department of Mechanical Engineering).

"The idea is to prove concepts in this small-scale test bed, learn from this process and then move on to a real city."

The results of the study, which was funded by the US Department of Energy (Smart Mobility Initiative and the Advanced Research Projects Agency), speak for themselves. Connected and driverless cars that were part of the trial reached pre-determined locations up to 26 to 30 percent faster, compared to vehicles with human drivers. The researchers applied a solution that optimized acceleration and deceleration, as the cars traveled within a speed reduction zone (i.e. busy intersection).

From a safety perspective, because the robust vehicles "know" where other cars are on the road at all times, the probability of encountering collisions is greatly reduced.

Fuel Efficiency

Passively optimizing acceleration and deceleration of driverless cars may help people conserve fuel or battery – for electrified vehicles. Simulations during the study showed that smart, autonomous cars utilize 19 to 22 percent less fuel, compared to conventional vehicles.

City infrastructure with connected features, could play a vital role in limiting or monitoring the driving behavior of autonomous vehicles. For instance, smart beacons along public roads could implement speed limits by communicating with smart, driverless cars. Upon receiving localized data from the beacon, the vehicle could automatically slow down to cater to the restrictions.

Without the ability to manually override such safety features, it would be almost impossible to travel past speed limits set by city regulators. As a result, less speeding tickets will be issued by law enforcement groups.

"We are developing solutions that could enable the future of energy efficient mobility systems," said Malikopoulos.

"We hope that our technologies will help people reach their destinations more quickly and safely while conserving fuel at the same time."

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