Traffic lights are supposed to make driving easier and more organized, but sometimes waiting at a light seems to take an eternity.
MIT thinks traffic lights are outdated, and it has a plan that will end the days of waiting at traffic lights forever.
The first traffic light was installed in London in 1868, and it didn’t work out so well. It was powered by gas and eventually exploded, killing the policeman who operated the light.
Today, there are over 12,000 traffic lights in New York City alone, none of which are in danger of exploding. You might think this means they’re a huge success, but scientists say otherwise.
MIT researchers published a study showing how we can get rid of stoplights to save time and reduce congestion. They suggest something called a “slot-based” intersection instead.
The idea is to let cars communicate with an infrastructure that will then apply a complex algorithm to allow cars through intersections in carefully timed groups. The technology isn’t even particularly advanced.
First, the system requires cars equipped with sensors so they can communicate their direction. This is the kind of tech that’s already being tested on autonomous cars across the world.
Second, an infrastructure would need to be built with software to communicate with these cars and determine how best to allow them through each intersection. This communication is a key part of the plan.
Once the car tells the infrastructure where it plans to go, the system then tells the car how fast to drive. You’ll arrive at your turn at the same time as other cars needing to go in the same direction and you’ll all be able to cruise right on through the intersection.
Meanwhile, traffic that might pose an obstacle to the group making a turn will be similarly instructed to speed up or slow down so that the two groups pass each other without every having to stop.
This is far better than traffic lights, according to the study, because there’s no time wasted with yellow lights. The setup time required by each yellow decreases an intersection’s efficiency, but there’s no way around it with the current system.
A slot-based system removes the lights altogether and relies on software instead. It will react to real-time traffic, eliminating traffic jams and preventing gridlock. There is, however, a catch.
The system only works if drivers obey the software. If it tells you to slow down and you don’t, then you’ll mess up the pattern.
This won’t be an issue for autonomous cars that aren’t impatient, but no one is going to want to slow down when they’re late for work or about to miss a flight.
The technology may be close at hand, but whether humans can effectively use it is debatable.
Image: Simon Brass