Automotive

"Virtual bubble" for autonomous cars would mean goodbye traffic lights

"Virtual bubble" for autonomou...
So long traffic lights?
So long traffic lights?
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So long traffic lights?
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So long traffic lights?

Autonomous vehicles not only stand to make our lives safer, but could make them a whole lot more convenient as well. One way they could do this is by smoothing traffic flows through cities, and one technology that could play a part in this is a new algorithm developed by researchers in Singapore. The system would see autonomous cars adapt their speed to cross intersections inside a safe "virtual bubble," without ever needing to come to a stop.

The system was developed by a team at Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and the thinking is that by employing a mix of smart cruise control with inter-vehicle communications, we can one day do away with traffic lights and give everyone a smoother ride through town.

Such a system would work on a principle that the researchers call "adaptive repulsive force," which means that the closer two cars get to one another in their trajectories, the stronger they are pushed away. But this wouldn't involve last-minute swerving or braking, rather the system would take its cues from communication beacons installed in the vehicles that beam data on distance and speed as they approach the intersection.

All of the approaching cars push this data to an algorithm tasked with overseeing traffic for that particular intersection, which then maps a safe route through courtesy of an automated speed adjustment for each car. In its testing, the team tried out the algorithm simulating even relatively complex intersections, and found that even in those more extreme scenarios the speed adjustments didn't need to be overly drastic.

"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," says Bo Yang from the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing, who led the research.

While we're not saying goodbye to traffic lights and stop signs just yet, the team does say that the system wouldn't require fully autonomous vehicles to work and could therefore be rolled out gradually. Plenty of today's cars already have adaptive cruise control, and the fact that many don't wouldn't necessarily be a roadblock.

To begin with, traffic lights would remain in place to help older cars through intersections. But as adaptive cruise control capabilities become more commonplace, along with the type of beacons described in this research, the lights could start to switch off for longer and longer periods, only springing into action when an ill-equipped vehicle rolls into the area.

"Our simple algorithm only requires basic vehicle intelligence, but is also fully compatible with more intelligent vehicles that may come in the future," says Yang.

The research was published in the journal Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies.

Source: A*Star Research

9 comments
VincentWolf
It will never work. Too many bugs in communicating due to interferences would render it dangerous. No way I would ever trust my life to autonomous cars. No thanks.
DL2016
How would it work with pedestrians?
AnthonyHadfield
Motorcycles are a very convenient, cheap and low-polluting method of transport that do not cause congestion in a city. They are very popular and are not going to conveniently disappear when the world switches to autonomous vehicles, neither are they going to become autonomous. There are always going to be vehicles that do not conform to the autonomous vision for the future, with real drivers controlling them. Those manually driven vehicles will still need to be able to negotiate intersections in a city in safety. Turning off the signalling will endanger road users and result in more accidents. These guys in Singapore are just computer geeks playing with simulations. They're not thinking about real world scenarios and the fact that there would be a long period of overlap between manually driven and autonomous vehicles.
physics314
Concerns about motorcycles, manual cars, etc., are likely unwarranted. Obsolete cars will be in the streets of the future, no more than horses are in the streets of today.
habakak
physics314....rock on! Precisely. People always resist change. Yes, there will be a 2 decade transition period but after that the generation born into that environment WONT want to drive anymore (for the vast majority of time). Driving to them would be like having to take care of a horse is for us. Just something you don't want to do. Motorcycles will go electric too, very soon. But motorcycles are very impractical. Pretty useless when it's hot, cold, rainy or snowy. And you can't really carry anything around on it. It's like a bicycle. Mostly used for leisure. Maybe 1% of commuters use bicycles and 2% to 5% use motorcycles 50% or less of the time. Old people surely don't want to use them, and very few women. Cars is where it's at. We just need to make them safer, cleaner, more energy-efficient and increase their utilization (through car-sharing or pooling). This will all happen with autonomous electric cars. And at the same time energy generation is going renewable. Last year 4% of US electricity production was from wind and solar alone (not ALL renewables, just those 2). This past March it hit 10%. 5 years ago it would have been less than 1%. Cheaper horse carriages and candles couldn't stop coal-powered electricity or the ICE. Coal and ICE's won't stop wind & solar and electric cars.
Bob Flint
So Singapore has no Police cars, Ambulances, Or Fire Trucks in this mix? Not to mention pedestrians, bikes, etc. It will take far more than two decades to replace only 10% of cars to electric vehicles, and there are still plenty of horses in the streets of today, check out any Mennonite towns as an example. As others have mentioned software bugs, lack of common formats, security alone is already far to weak, and costs for these pie in the sky dreamers are never really ever evaluated.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The U. S. vehicle population is getting ever closer to Cuba's. The only thing stopping this is salt spray.
Daniel Harbin
Hack the vehicles, naw never happen .... right. If there is money to be made like stealing cars by hacking them then it will happen. Imagine there is no breaking into cars and hot wiring them or such. Just hack the car and have it drive to a specified location then strip it or load it into a truck with a Faraday cage to block any signals. Of course that is a way to prevent the car to get hacked in the first place is with a Faraday cage.
KoderKanin Jørgensen
Not gonna happen in Copenhagen. 50 % of the inhabitants are using a bicycle for there daily commute. The superior technology