• A fleet of driverless cars working together to keep traffic moving smoothly can improve overall traffic flow by at least 35%
  • Researchers from Cambridge used tiny toy cars to prove it. 
  • They also threw a bad human controlled toy car driver into the mix, to see what would happen. 

A fleet of driverless cars working together to keep traffic moving smoothly can improve overall traffic flow by at least 35%, researchers at the University of Cambridge have shown.

The researchers programmed a small fleet of toy cars to drive on a multi-lane track and observed how the traffic flow changed when one of the cars stopped. They wanted to see the if the behaviour of autonomous cars would be more safe if allowed to talk with each other when out on the road.  

The first scenario they set up was with cars that were not linked to each other, but still automated. Equipped with sensors to prevent collisions, any cars behind the stopped car had to stop or slow down and wait for a gap in the traffic, as would typically happen on a real road. A queue quickly formed behind the stopped car and overall traffic flow was slowed.

In a second scenario, the researchers allowed the cars to communicate with each other, driving cooperatively. Once the first car stopped in the inner lane, cars in the outer lane that were in immediate proximity of the stopped car slowed down and allowed the stopped cars to pass in between without having to stop or slow down significantly.

They then threw chaos into the mix by introducing a badly driven human-controlled toy car - the other cars were able to give way to avoid the aggressive driver, improving safety.

The results were presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Montréal, Canada.

“Autonomous cars could fix a lot of different problems associated with driving in cities, but there needs to be a way for them to work together,” said co-author Michael He, an undergraduate student at St John’s College, who designed the algorithms for the experiment.

“If different automotive manufacturers are all developing their own autonomous cars with their own software, those cars all need to communicate with each other effectively,” said co-author Nicholas Hyldmar, an undergraduate student at Downing College, who designed much of the hardware for the experiment.

In future work, the researchers plan to use the fleet to test multi-car systems in more complex scenarios including roads with more lanes, intersections and a wider range of vehicle types.

It could go a long way to improving how autonomous cars can communicate with each other, and with cars controlled by human drivers, on real roads in the future.

For more on their research click here 

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