Driverless cars could help reduce congestion in cities, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that a fleet of autonomous vehicles working together to keep traffic moving smoothly can improve overall traffic flow by at least 35%.
The research team programmed a fleet of 16 miniature robotic cars to drive on a multi-lane track and observed how the traffic flow changed when one of the cars stopped.
When the cars were not driving cooperatively, 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. As a result, a queue quickly formed behind the stopped car and overall traffic flow slowed down.
However, when the cars were communicating with each other and driving cooperatively, as soon as one car stopped in the inner lane, it sent a signal to all the other vehicles. Cars in the outer lane that were near to the stopped vehicle slowed down slightly so that those in the inner lane were able to quickly overtake without having to stop or slow down significantly.
When a human-controlled driver was put on the track with the autonomous cars and moved around in an aggressive manner, the other cars were able to give way to avoid the aggressive driver, improving safety, the researchers said.
“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,” explained co-author Michael He, an undergraduate student at St John’s College.
“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,” added co-author Nicholas Hyldmar, an undergraduate student at Downing College.