Space & Innovation

Future Roads to Dispense with Traffic Lights

Plan calls for autonomous vehicle intersections to eliminate traffic signals entirely. Continue reading →

MIT Urban Planning

According to an international team of researchers - who have been thinking rather hard about the topic - intersections of the future will likely have no traffic lights at all.

This is assuming a future of self-driving cars and smart roadways where sensor-laden vehicles are in constant communication. In fact, the proposed system would require autonomous cars exclusively - no human drivers allowed.

Car Seat Senses Your Road Rage, Offers A Massage

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETHZ), and the Italian National Research Council (CNR) have developed a plan called Light Traffic that's similar to slot-based management systems used in air traffic control.

When approaching an intersection, each self-driving vehicle requests access from a central traffic control system. Each vehicle is then assigned a specific time or slot in which it will pass through the intersection. See the video below.

click to play video

"Traffic intersections are particularly complex spaces, because you have two flows of traffic competing for the same piece of real estate," says Professor Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, in press materials.

"But a slot-based system moves the focus from the traffic flow level to the vehicle level. Ultimately, it's a much more efficient system, because vehicles will get to an intersection exactly when there is a slot available to them."

Studies suggest that real-time slot allocation would at least double the number of vehicles able to pass through an intersection in a given amount of time. That would reduce travel times generally, and also cut down on emissions from idling vehicles.

Self-Driving Flying Car to Take Off in Two Years

The full report, titled "Revisiting Street Intersections Using Slot-Based Systems." was published this week in the online journal PloS ONE. In addition to the Light Traffic concept video above, you can check out the longer version from MIT's DriveWAVE project.

One final note: Researchers say that the Light Traffic process is also capable of accommodating bicycles and pedestrians in a particular intersection. While I have tremendous faith in technology, I suspect my brain stem will balk at crossing an intersection where self-driving cars are continually whizzing past from four directions. Maybe I'll get over it.

click to play video