Traffic lights could soon become history due to a new software system that aims to automate the movement of vehicles at road intersections.
“The idea is not a driverless car. Driverless cars take away the fun of driving. The main objective is to improve traffic flow inside the city and do away with the traffic lights because they are expensive to maintain,” said Vijay Kumar, professor of computer science and electrical engineering.
Kumar first learned of sensor technology during a workshop in London, and he said he was intrigued by the possibilities it offered. The foundation of the idea comes from the “ambiguity effect.”
According to Kumar and his graduate assistant Amol Khedkar, drivers face the “ambiguity effect,” a cognitive bias where decision making is affected by a lack of information or ambiguity. Khedkar said an ambiguous decision to hit the gas pedal or a delayed decision to not hit the gas pedal in time could lead to a collision.
Several cars exist in today’s market that have safe lane-changing options and hands-off parking technologies.
Kumar said the most common problem today is the number of traffic lights at a single intersection. His project concentrates on eliminating traffic lights completely or at least making them more cost effective.
With three months left in the completion of the prototype, basic issues like how cars will communicate both with each other and traffic lights, and how the elimination or modification of traffic lights will impact traffic flow will be discussed.
Khedkar, who considers this to be his lifetime project, resolved the idea of unnecessary traffic buildup by using the concept “service rate must be higher than the request rate.” This means the signals must change based on the flow of traffic.
“It would communicate with other cars, synchronize and instruct the driver when to stop and proceed, provided it is installed in all the cars,” he said.
The main focus is a better use of energy and efficient traffic management. Traffic lights consume unnecessary amounts of electricity and manpower. The project aims to save expenditures and make the car more affordable.
With limited funding, Kumar believes it may take more than two years for the system to enter the market. However, with knowledgeable marketing techniques and interested companies ready to fund the project, this time could be reduced. At the moment, the duo is looking to team up with car manufacturing companies.
Unlike other driverless car systems in place, this car does not require special permits to operate on city streets. Instead, this system works in accordance with the laws of each state. No additional laws are required.
“In fact, the [Missouri Department of Transportation] is trying to find a way to communicate with the cars and gather information from them as well as reduce accidents. The transport department is aware of this system and so it makes it beneficial for us as we are also working in the same direction,” Khedkar said.
The system is independent from the manufactured equipment necessary to build a car. It also comes with an override mechanism so it can be switched off while driving on a highway.
“The next step is to take it further and regulate the speed of vehicles, thus avoiding collision and reducing the wait time between cars. This is called Dynamic Synchronization,” Khedkar said.
According to Kumar, “Fully Automatic Self Synchronized Traffic Management” stands the test of time. Whether it would spread to other countries is still unknown.
“This is the future,” Khedkar said.