Say Goodbye to Traffic Lights with Autonomous Cars

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Get your pens ready to write the eulogy for the traffic light. Amid all the cursing and screaming drivers and the collisions on their watch, they served  admirably.  A beacon of winking red, yellow and green lights, they did their best to keep order in a thankless job. But now it’s time for them to go gentle into that good night.  Well, not just yet, but that future is nigh.

Once automakers build a truly autonomous car, there won’t be a need for traffic lights. And, we are creeping up on that reality. Tesla just upped the game  with a software update that allows their cars to change lanes all by themselves (gasp!). We discuss this exciting development here.

One Nation of Interconnected Cars

For cars to truly become their own sovereign, they will need not only to have information about themselves but also the state of the nation around them. Gathering and interconnecting intel about other cars, weather and road conditions is one thing. But a whole mass of data is just data. Someone needs to figure out how to harness the power of that data to safely and efficiently control traffic conditions.

And that’s where someone like Andreas Malikopoulos comes in. He’s a Terri Connor Kelly and John Kelly Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Delaware. Using control theory, he develops algorithms that will allow cars to sort and make sense of the data. Malikopoulos brings an impressive automotive pedigree to the table. He was the Deputy Director and the Lead of the Sustainable Mobility Theme of the Urban Dynamics Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and a Senior Researcher with General Motors Global Research & Development.

Photo by Jordan on Unsplash

Save Time and Energy

Malikopoulos has published two papers about innovations he’s made in connected and automated vehicle technology from his work in two labs at the university: the UD Scaled Smart City (UDSSC) testbed and a driving simulator facility. In keeping with the theme of sharing and interconnecting information for advanced solutions, Malikopoulos collaborated with colleagues from Boston University in developing a way for connected and autonomous vehicles to be more energy efficient while crossing an intersection without traffic signals. In software simulations, the cars indeed conserved fuel. What they also did was improve travel time! That is certainly music to anyone’s ears. For a detailed review, the results are published in the journal Automatica.

In the second study, published in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, Malikopoulos collaborated with colleagues at the University of Virginia. They examined finding optimal acceleration and deceleration speeds for connected cars in a speed reduction zone while making sure there weren’t any fender benders. Simulations of the solution showed promising results. In contrast to a human controlled vehicle, connected cars used 19 to 22 percent less fuel consumption and got to their destination 26 to 30 percent faster. You can hop on over to Malikopoulos’s Information and Decision Science (IDS) lab at the University of Delaware to learn more about the fascinating work he does.

And there’s an awesome corollary to the retirement of traffic signals: you can’t get pulled over for running the light. While I might shed a tear for the dear old traffic signal, I’m looking forward to flipping the bird to traffic tickets.

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