What do you think of a fourth traffic light color being added to traffic signals for self-driving vehicles to help control traffic flow?
I get that one day a bunch of connected autonomous cars may outnumber human beings behind the wheel. The thing is, it would tick me off to no end if somehow traffic lights allowed driverless cars an advantage over those driven by you and me.
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A recent study was published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, arguing for exactly that.
Simulations are being conducted, and researchers are quickly realizing that a fourth traffic light could improve travel time through intersections and reduce fuel consumption.
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How would a fourth traffic light work?
The concept is known as the ‘white phase’ and would essentially introduce a new traffic signal so that drivers on the road would know what to do around autonomous vehicles or AVs.
The red, yellow, and green traffic lights would all remain the same and have the same meanings of stop, caution, and yield, and it’s safe to proceed.
With the extra white light added, human drivers will be signaled to simply follow the car in front of them.
CAVs, aka connected autonomous vehicles, can communicate wirelessly with each other and with the computer controlling the traffic signal.
So, when there are a lot of driverless cars at an intersection at one time, they will be able to activate the white light. That would force the human drivers behind driverless cars. You would just have to follow whatever driverless car is in front of you (if they stop, you stop. If they go, you go). This would help driverless cars to coordinate traffic through the intersection more efficiently.
In one part of the study, if there are more human drivers on the road than there are AVs, then the traffic light can go back to its regular 3-light style. Gee, thanks.
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Is this a safe concept?
The concept has been significantly improved upon since it was first introduced back in 2020. Ali Hajbabaie, an associate professor of civil, construction, and environmental engineering at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of the IEEE study, says, “This is both more efficient and less likely to fall prey to communication failures.
For example, if there’s an interruption or time lag in communication with the traffic light, the distributed computing approach would still be able to handle traffic flow smoothly.”
Researchers are continuing to test this concept with the help of microscopic traffic simulators, which are simulators that can replicate real-world traffic.
These simulators are showing researchers that traffic improves with the presence of AVs and a fourth traffic light and that fuel consumption is much lower as there is much less stop-and-go movement. And with Amazon’s self-driving car recently making its first successful trip on public roads, we can likely expect more driverless cars on the road in the near future.
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The concept is nowhere near ready to be adopted and put into motion yet. However, researchers like Hajbabaie are certainly very hopeful that this will become part of our norm in the future.
Want to see Amazon’s driverless car in action? Head to my website CyberGuy.com and search “Amazon’s self-driving car“ by clicking the magnifying glass at the top of my website.
How would you feel about adding a fourth stoplight to the roadways? We want to hear from you.
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