First they came for the drivers, and now, autonomous vehicles are going after traffic lights. The latest thing to be rendered obsolete (potentially) by the advent of self-driving technology are those pesky stop lights that seem to be the bane of every human driver’s existence. Thanks to a new proposal from MIT’s Senseable City Lab, the future of automotive navigation will utilize so-called “slot-based” intersections. Essentially, cars will automatically adjust their speed to arrive at crossings at a particular time, performing a choreographed traffic dance that should, in theory, eliminate the need for red, yellow, and green lights.
“When sensor-laden vehicles approach an intersection, they can communicate their presence and remain at a safe distance from each other, rather than grinding to a halt at traffic lights,” Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab, told the Boston Globe in an email. “By removing the waits caused by traffic lights, slot-based intersections create a system that is much more efficient.”
With specifically designated times for each car to enter and exit an intersection, the MIT team believes that they have achieved an enormous improvement over the current system. By way of sensors, autonomous vehicles would communicate with other cars on the road, keeping a safe distance while detecting when it’s safe to move forward (and when they need to stop).
“Traffic intersections are particularly complex spaces, because you have two flows of traffic competing for the same piece of real estate,” Ratti added. “But a slot-based system moves the focus from the traffic flow level to the vehicle level.”
Not only is this new traffic mechanism expected to be more efficient in terms of time, but experts also note the beneficial side effects a slot-based intersection could have. Fuel emissions could be reduced by lessening the time cars have to spend braked at a light, and while this may not save you a lot of money on fuel, this could have a huge impact on a macro level. “This would make a contribution to the reduction of emissions and climate change,” Professor Dirk Helbing of the ETHZ told the Daily Mail. “Overall, people would benefit, the environment would benefit, and cities would become more livable.”
So get ready, friends. When you stop driving, you’ll might also stop stopping at traffic lights.