One Driverless Vehicle Can Ease Heavy Traffic, Study Finds

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【Summary】In addition to reducing traffic, all of the cars that were part of the study lowered fuel consumption by a whopping 40 percent. With legitimate proof that self-driving cars can reduce traffic, automakers could use the study to improve adoption rates and approvals for new autonomous driving regulations.

  Michael Cheng  ·  May 19, 2017 7:10 AM PT
author: Michael Cheng   

Driverless cars are predicted to being capable of curtailing city traffic, which can be incredibly helpful during peak periods. But without solid proof, such benefits are only seen as possibilities and potentials.

To test this assertion, researchers from the University of Illinois published a study that focuses on autonomous technology and its applications to stop-and-go traffic scenarios. The results verified what developers knew all along: self-driving cars are capable of curbing human behavior that causes frustrating bottlenecks and traffic.

Surprisingly, it doesn't take a lot of driverless cars to accomplish this feat. One autonomous car out of a sea of human-driven vehicles is all it takes to reduce road congestion – and scientists have uploaded a video to establish their claims.

"I assumed we would need sophisticated control techniques, but what we showed was that [traffic] controllers which are staples of undergraduate control theory will do the trick," said Jonathan Sprinkle of the University of Arizona.

Human Error

Stop-and-go driving stems from human drivers who are unable to assess road conditions properly. This could be due emotional roadblocks (a long day at work or sleepiness affects one's critical decision-making skills) or physically being unable to see their surrounding environment clearly. In both cases, driving decisions are often short sighted, causing one to slam on the breaks in an abrupt manner. As a result, the natural flow of cars on the road is disrupted.

Previously, the only solution to this issue was to create more roads. Now, scientists want to improve traffic control by deploying autonomous vehicles in congested cities, which is also a less costly option.

According to Daniel B. Work, lead researcher of the study, automating five percent of cars on the road can put an end to traffic caused by human error. This is comparable to traffic sensors being replaced by GPS data crowdsourced by users of navigation platforms. In addition to reducing traffic, all of the cars that were part of the study lowered fuel consumption by a whopping 40 percent.

Field Experiments and Results

During the trials, researchers deployed one autonomous vehicle on a circle track with roughly 20 cars driven by humans. As the human-powered cars succumbed to stop-and-go driving out of frustration, the driverless vehicle remained calm and was not influenced by other drivers on the road. This is a huge factor in the success of self-driving cars. They aren't affected by a screaming driver and other distractions in their environment. The cutting-edge vessels treat incoming data all the same without any emotional influence.

With legitimate proof that self-driving cars can reduce traffic, automakers could use the study to improve adoption rates and approvals for new autonomous driving regulations.

"Fully autonomous vehicles in common traffic may be still far away in the future due to many technological, market and policy constraints," explained researcher Benedetto Piccoli, the Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University. "However, increased communication among vehicles and increased levels of autonomy in human-driven vehicles is in the near future."

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