Cutting edge technology that could cut congestion on UK roads
Experts say the presence of just a few autonomous vehicles can eliminate the stop-and-go habits of the human drivers in traffic, along with the accident risk and fuel inefficiency.
The findings show that self-driving cars and related technology may be even closer to revolutionising traffic control than previously thought.
Lead researcher Professor Daniel Work, of the University of Illinois College of Engineering, said: “Our experiments show that with as few as five percent of vehicles being automated and carefully controlled, we can eliminate stop-and-go waves caused by human driving behaviour.”
Experts say the use of autonomous vehicles to control traffic flow is the next innovation in the rapidly evolving science of traffic monitoring and control.
Prof Work said self-driving cars are poised to replace traditional motorway traffic control ideas like variable speed limits.
Researchers conducted field experiments in Tucson, Arizona, in which a single autonomous vehicle circled a track continuously with at least 20 other human-driven cars.
Normally human drivers naturally create stop-and-go traffic, even in the absence of bottlenecks, lane changes, merges or other disruptions, a phenomenon known as ‘phantom traffic jams.
Researchers found that by controlling the pace of the self-driving car in the study, they were able to smooth out the traffic flow for all cars. For the first time, researchers demonstrated even a small percentage of such vehicles can have a significant impact on the road, eliminating waves and cutting fuel consumption by up to 40 percent.
Study co-author Jonathan Sprinkle said: “Before we carried out these experiments, I did not know how straightforward it could be to positively affect the flow of traffic.
This latest research suggests that vehicle technology in use now – such as adaptive cruise control – has the power to improve traffic even before there are large numbers of autonomous vehicles on the road.
Researcher Benedetto Piccoli said: “Fully autonomous vehicles in common traffic may be still far away due to many technological, market and policy constraints. However, increased communication among vehicles and increased levels of autonomy in human-driven vehicles is in the near future.”
The researchers say the next step will be to study the impact of self-drive vehicles in denser traffic with more freedom given to human drivers, such as the ability to change lanes.