Why does it always seem that when there's no traffic, a stop light is too long and when there's tons of traffic, a stop light is too short? Managing the flow of cars is a big challenge for many urban planners. Ozan Tonguz, a telecommunications researcher from Carnegie Mellon, has examined the way ants and termites nagivate their own versions of gridlock to create Virtual Traffic Lights, an algorithm that helps control human traffic on busy streets.
It's called a "virtual" traffic lights because instead of the lights being at intersections, they're located in each car, on windshield. The algorithm uses information collected from GPS devices, short-range communicators and other sensors to manage whether a driver sees a green, yellow or red light on her windshield.
In simulations, the algorithm managed the flow of cars in a way similar to how insects manage themselves. In ant and terminte colonies, the large group always gets to go first.
"In such self-organizing biological systems, the colony can perform all the vital functions it needs (such as foraging, moving, adjusting to changing environmental conditions, protecting itself from predators, etc.) through the cooperation of the members of its colony," Tonguz explained in an email to DNews.