What Self-Driving Cars Could Mean for Traffic Lights

April 4th 2016

Hitting red light after red light can put put a damper on your day, but recently published research aruges that self-driving cars might enable the end of traffic stop lights and decrease the sour moods that come along with them.

Stop lightFlickr/Clay Junell - flickr.com

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Swiss Institute of Technology, and the Italian National Research Council released a paper in March in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, which argues that slot-based intersections could replace traffic stop lights when self-driving cars become a reality.

"This idea is based on a scenario where sensor-laden vehicles pass through intersections by communicating and remaining at a safe distance from each other, rather than grinding to a halt at traffic lights," MIT's Senseable City Lab states on its site. "This approach based on slot-based intersections is flexible and can be designed to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle crossing with vehicular traffic."

Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, told Curbed that a slot-based system would work so efficiently because cars would be able to "get to an intersection exactly when there is a slot available to them."

“It is important that we start looking into the impact of self-driving vehicles at the city level as soon as possible,” Ratti told Curbed.

The elimination of traffic lights, which were originally created for horse carriages 150 years ago, could double traffic efficiency, decrease gas usage, and relieve the stress of traffic, among other things.

The larger benefits of self-driving cars.

Jeffrey Miller, an associate professor of engineering practices at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, told ATTN: earlier this year that self-driving cars are "probably the greatest technology to improve traffic" and could reduce the tediousness of one's daily commute.

"It's not going to be as big of a deal if you have an hour to an hour-and-a-half commute if I can sit in the car, be connected to the internet, and be working the entire commute," Miller previously told ATTN:. "I can be on the phone, I can be on my laptop, and it's going to be just like a mobile office, as opposed to wasting two hours a day sitting in traffic or commuting."

Miller also said car safety should also increase when self-driving cars become the norm.

"Even if we're only improving safety by five percent, why in the world would we not want to adopt some kind of technology so that we can save lives and reduce the amount of money spent on bodily harm and so on?" he said.

You can watch MIT's video explaining the slot-based intersection traffic system below:

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