Smart Intersections to Make Traffic Lights Obsolete
【Summary】The best part is, the cars don’t have to be fully autonomous. Partial autonomy is all that is needed to phase out traffic lights at busy intersections. As long as the vehicles can autonomously brake and accelerate, similar to existing smart cruise control features in modern cars, they can avoid collisions without slowing down.
Earlier this year, scientists proved self-driving cars are capable of reducing traffic, alongside traditional, human-driven vehicles. Interestingly, existing ADAS technology can also be applied in the same manner at intersections, which could, at some point in the future, make traffic lights obsolete.
The best part is, the cars don't have to be fully autonomous. Partial autonomy is all that is needed to phase out traffic lights at busy intersections. As long as the vehicles can autonomously brake and accelerate, similar to existing smart cruise control features in modern cars, they can avoid collisions without slowing down.
According to Bo Yang from the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing, smart beacons are more efficient at moderating cars in city intersections, compared to traditional traffic lights. Yang was part of a team of scientists who developed an algorithm that safely gauges the proper speed and direction of a group of vehicles crossing an intersection.
During the trials, the beacon gathers information related to speed, distance and direction. It applies the "adaptive repulsive force" concept to ensure cars don't hit each other. The concept is simple: the closer the vessels get to each other, the more they want to avoid each other – by either speeding up or slowing down – just like two opposing magnets.
With this in mind, the cars won't be traveling at full speed during the approach when cars are around. Furthermore, drivers will still be able to control steering, as the only movements facilitated by the beacon include acceleration and braking. Yang claims the process doesn't require heavy computing power, making it easy to install and implement in urban locations.
"In most cases, pre-emptive deceleration only slightly lowered the vehicle velocity, resulting in safe passage of each vehicle across the intersection without coming to a full stop at any point," explained Yang. "One of our most interesting findings is that the rules governing the necessary repulsion between vehicles is rather simple."
Should smart intersections powered by beacons catch on, the transition would be gradual and smooth. Cars without ADAS and V2I features required to autonomously pass through an intersection will still need to adhere to traffic lights. But as self-driving cars eventually dominate public roads, cities can slowly phase out the traffic-mitigating units, by turning them on only when a human-driven car approaches the intersection.
"Our simple algorithm only requires basic vehicle intelligence, but is also fully compatible with more intelligent vehicles that may come in the future," said Yang.
Like a slot-based system proposed by researchers from MIT, the main barrier for adoption is still human intervention. It would be easier to implement such new driving processes with fully autonomous cars, since control is in the hands of the vehicle.
When given the ability to steer the car during the initial approach, a human driver could swerve into an adjacent lane with a fast-moving vehicle, causing a major crash. To prevent this, the beacon should be able to temporarily "lock" the controls, as the vehicle passes through the intersection.
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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