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MIT Study Shows Stop Lights Won't Be Necessary In The Future (computerworld.com) 264

Lucas123 writes: An MIT [Senseable City Lab] study based on mathematical modeling demonstrated a likely scenario in which high-tech vehicles, using sensors to remain at a safe distance from each other as they move through a four-way intersection, can eliminate the need for traffic lights in the future. By removing the waits caused by traffic lights, these so-called Slot-based Intersections speed-up traffic flow.The study claims this kind of traffic-light-free transportation design, if it ever arrives, could allow twice as much traffic to use existing roads.
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MIT Study Shows Stop Lights Won't Be Necessary In The Future

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  • And statistically, it will since autonomous cars are not mythical crash-proof transport machines then you're going to end up with an almighty bang
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      So far autonomous cars have only been crashed into by people.
  • Roundabouts? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19, 2016 @04:56PM (#51733701)

    What would be the comparative advantage with respect to a roundabout?

    I know they are not very popular in the US, but they can be very efficient, and prevent the frustration of waiting at busy intersection (especially if going in the non-popular direction).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Intron ( 870560 )

      They are definitely better, especially when more than 2 roads come into an intersection.

    • Space requirements. A high-traffic roundabout requires more land area than a cross intersection.
      • Space requirements. A high-traffic roundabout requires more land area than a cross intersection.

        I thought that the US had loads of space. Roundabouts have been back-fitted all over the place in the UK, including "mini-roundabouts" (which I don't believe achieve much), Having done that though, the trend in the UK is to install traffic lights at every intersection of the roundabout as well. There is a large roundabout near me (just off the M5 at Avonmouth) that has I reckon about fifty traffic light heads; I must count them one day.

        • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @06:08PM (#51734081)
          Well sure! Let's just take some extra space from Montana and plunk it into an intersection in Manhattan. Now it fits a roundabout!
      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        Space requirements. A high-traffic roundabout requires more land area than a cross intersection.

        That's partially correct, sometimes:

        A roundabout may need more property within the actual intersection, but often take up less space on the streets approaching the roundabout. [wa.gov] Because roundabouts can handle greater volumes of traffic more efficiently than signals, where drivers may need to line up to wait for a green light, roundabouts usually require fewer lanes approaching the intersection.

      • Not true. What's true is that given an intersection with 2 lane roads coming into it, a roundabout will need more space than a light controlled intersection.

        However, a roundabout causes the roads into it and out of it to be used more efficiently, as traffic flows down them constantly, rather than only coming in bursts roughly 1/4 of the time. The result is that said 2 lane light controlled junction gets replaced by one lane roads, and a roundabout that takes up the same space as the junction.

        Overall resul

        • No, the roundabout need only be a dot in the middle of the intersection. It is only there to set rules as to who has to yield to whom.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      They are efficient, pretty safe (no blowing through red lights, at worst low-speed collisions), have a high traffic capacity and are far cheaper to maintain. Sure, drivers tend to dislike them for a while, but that passes.

      • Timed traffic lights are better as people don't have to even slow down. Of course that is often somewhat of a pipe dream...
        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          Of course most people have to slow down. Timed traffic lights are the perfect example of using a carrot to enforce the speed limit. Speed and all your lights are red. Go the speed limit and all your lights are green.
          Won't work in corrupt jurisdictions as they depend on the stick to enforce speed limits and raise revenue with safety an excuse.
          Seems that they used to be common around here, drive for miles in town with no red lights. Now I think they time it for traffic management/calming as every light seems

  • Pedestrians (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 19, 2016 @04:57PM (#51733711)

    How are they supposed to cross? Without lights, there could just be continuous stream of them walking over the road and cars can't pass since they try to avoid hitting them thus causing even bigger jams in big city centers.

    • by aix tom ( 902140 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @05:28PM (#51733867)

      Well, they just have to invent the high-tech autonomous pedestrian then to replace all the old models.

      • Tomorrows computer controlled pedestrians will fit is seamlessly. (They better if they plan to survive).

        Seriously. Eventually, fewer and less complex stop lights but still quite a few to handle pedestrians, synchronizing activity where bumper to bumper traffic streams cross and other special cases.

        Oh, and, BTW, expect some monumental traffic jams when those Over The Air updates that folks regard as a solution to some problem or other cause every Honda in North America to decide not to talk to any GM car

    • Re:Pedestrians (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shadow99_1 ( 86250 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .99wodahseht.> on Saturday March 19, 2016 @05:55PM (#51734021)

      This was my question as well. Though here in the US everyone regularly forgets pedestrians. I've even lived in a city (Columbus OH), which often omits sidewalks in highly congested areas. So I know how badly they are already treated. This would just make it lots worse.

      • I've even lived in a city (Columbus OH), which often omits sidewalks in highly congested areas.

        In other countries I've been in, if the city needs to expand its roads, it just seizes the land adjacent to the road and expands it.

        In the U.S. the government is required to compensate landowners for the market value of the seized land. So if traffic was highly congested as you say, the city probably made an accounting decision that it was congested enough to eliminate the sidewalks for an extra lane, but not

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Bridges and tunnels. This is not rocket-science.

    • by jeti ( 105266 )
      Also don't forget bicycles, motorbikes and tractors.
      • Also don't forget bicycles, motorbikes and tractors.

        THIS.
        Some people seem to be in such a rush to get goddamned self-driving cars that they're completely ignoring people who don't want them, won't use them, or don't drive at all. You can't just outlaw bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians or whatever! The Real World is what's going to kill self-driving cars. There are too many variables, and you can't just arbitrarily exclude things!

        • by Nyh ( 55741 )

          Self driving cars will be a lot safer for bicycles, pedestrians and so on. The software in the car is always vigilant and will actually see them and stop for them. Their awareness of other road user might be their biggest problem. People just will take priority of self driving cars because they know the car will stop in time to prevent an accident.

          Nyh

    • by shess ( 31691 )

      Every intersection will have an autonomous vehicle to shuttle pedestrians across.

      Or perhaps the police will just arrest them.

    • Just step off the curb, and the cars will stop. To keep busy intersections from slowing to a crawl, you'd still have to have walk/don't walk signs. Impromptu street protests where nobody obeys the signs would automatically shut down all traffic in the area because of this. Jay-walking might become a more significant offense, especially if it was done as part of a mass un-permitted march.

    • How are they supposed to cross? Without lights, there could just be continuous stream of them walking over the road and cars can't pass since they try to avoid hitting them thus causing even bigger jams in big city centers.

      Well duh, we'll just have to have self-driving pedestrians too. Luddite!

    • Maybe with the cars seeing them and making a wide path around them?

      I remember an Asimov story (one of the more forgetable ones) in which there was a room with robots all going in straight lines criss-crossing the room. The robots were in direct communication with each other so none of them ever hit another. When a person had to cross the room, he essentially had to close his eyes and keep walking, regardless of what he heard happening around him.

      Not sure I would trust this in the real world, mind you. A

  • by cmeans ( 81143 ) <cmeans@intfa r . c om> on Saturday March 19, 2016 @04:59PM (#51733723) Homepage Journal
    Seems like they still need to play a part in any scenario with or without traffic lights. Dropping traffic lights may be fine for autonomous vehicles, but that also means that people will just walk when they want to, which'll make cars stop to let them pass. Perfectly fine when there's few pedestrians, but when there's a lot, the automobile traffic will totally come to a half if no one is stopping people from walking into the street.
    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      Not to mention bicycles.

      And it's unlikely that every motorized vehicle can be replaced by an autonomous version. Most, perhaps, but there's bound to be exceptions.

    • It would work just like today. Pedestrians and bicycles press a button to let the system know they're there. Everyone else stops for a bit to let them cross.

      • That's not efficient. Right now pedestrians don't have to press a button, so for example they might arrive at the crossing halfway while the crossing light is green, and they can just cross without slowing down. With your system, *every* pedestrian has to press the button and wait, which just causes delays for pedestrians. I argue that, especially in cities, pedestrians are more important than cars, and should get priority. Your system takes away convenience for pedestrians in favour of drivers. FAIL.
        • You're right that a button is antiquated. They would just need cameras at the corners to recognize them and priorities things. Matching the speed of the cars to all pass through without slowing down is only the best case scenario. As someone walks up to the intersection there's no way to know if they're going to cross or turn the other way so they'll mess up the timing regardless. Large cities a long line of pedestrians could cause major traffic jams if there's no way to share the road. You're wrong, people

    • by dAzED1 ( 33635 )
      Ok - pedestrians, bicycles, animals, and...the backwards compatibility issue. Sure, that bit could eventually work itself out, but even if you mandated all new cars to be driverless by 2017, you'll still have a majority of the cars of the road for years to come be older than that and not have such tech. So you're just going to say people can no longer ride motorcycles or drive old cars? Really think that will fly? Not any time soon. So unless they're talking about some distant future where there are al
    • Build pedestrian crossings over traffic, like we do now in many locations. Then no one has to stop for anyone.

    • On the plus side, this will allow the US to reverse it's dumb decision to stick pedestrian crossings right at the same places as complex traffic intersections, and stop the ever-present issue of people making right turns, only to discover (sometimes too late) someone crossing the road right in front of them.

      In more sane countries, the pedestrian crossings are put a decent distance away from the actual intersection, and barriers erected to stop people crossing in the intersection.

      • So the preference is to double the number of places cars need to stop? I've never had trouble with people crossing when I turn, except for bikes on the sidewalk that don't slow down when going through the intersection.
      • You're not qualified to talk about traffic if you don't realize that putting pedestrian crossings at intersections is the most efficient way to let pedestrians navigate the cities. People don't know how to walk through walls you know.
  • "...you just need to surrender your individual autonomy and hand over total control to us. It's necessary for increased efficiency!"

    You know, this argument seems strangely familiar...

    • The screams of the 30,000 people that die each year in cars should be enough to silence this argument as we move toward autonomous cars. Its time to remove human ego from transportation. We may live to see a day where self-drive is illegal and i cant wait.
      • The screams of the 30,000 people that die each year in cars should be enough to silence this argument as we move toward autonomous cars. Its time to remove human ego from transportation. We may live to see a day where self-drive is illegal and i cant wait.

        Why assume self driving would always carry the same risk going forward? In a future where electronics can drive reliably what prevents the same electronics from rendering self driving safe?

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          The only way to do that would be to allow the computer to override your decisions. If the electronics are able to take control over the car without your permission, you aren't really in control; you just have the illusion of control. At that point, you might as well just let the computer drive so you can kick back and check your email, send text messages to your friends, and make out in the back seat... or whatever.

          • The only way to do that would be to allow the computer to override your decisions.

            Does AEB override your decisions? What about ABS? Traction control? Power steering? Speed/Rev limiters? CTA? Cruise control?

            If the electronics are able to take control over the car without your permission, you aren't really in control; you just have the illusion of control.

            In the typical scenario where I get in my POS, drive to work and no electronic dumbass driver alert goes off my driving experience is none different.

            The only difference is in the exceptional case where the dumbass alert goes off people don't end up in hospitals or morgues.

            You are free to argue adding constraints is the same as "illusion of control" but I'm not sure how such statem

      • People die every day. I prefer the government keep the hell out of trying to make my life 100% safe. I like some risk in my life. And I love to drive.

        Cruising down the freeway in a Corvette at 80mph with the top off and eight cylinders rumbling is the height of non-sexual euphoria.

        Self driving sports/performance cars would be the most boring thing ever created.

        At least self driving motorcycles would be further down the road, so I still would get to drive my Harley.
        • Too bad we arent talking about your wants and desires. In the context of public policy, roads are for the utility of transportation and nothing else. We will end self-drive within the next 40 years (or at least make the insurance so expensive it will cost too much ). Count on it. oh, by the way, Motorcycles will be the FIRST to be outlawed, not the last... They are an unsafe conveyance at highway speed. If they were invented today, they would have never made it past legal..
        • Cruising down the freeway in a Corvette at 80mph with the top off and eight cylinders rumbling is the height of non-sexual euphoria.

          You need to try more drugs

  • Pedestrians will need implants!
    It astounds me daily how many volunteer to be a Darwin award winner
    as they step off the curb without looking both ways expecting vehicles to stop for them.

    Near hotels in the UK and Australia are words on the curb reminding Mericans to
    look "the other way" too. Those little reminders are fully lost to the goof with
    his or her nose in his phone.

    I recently found a crazy turn signal in this area where vehicles were given
    a right turn green arrow at the same time pedestrians were gi

    • Ignoring pedestrians and cyclists is a feature, not a bug. How else are they going to get pedestrians and cyclists to usecself driving cars except by making walking and cycling too dangerous, hence illegal? And then it will be your fault when you get hit, and what pedestrian wants to pay the high cost of insurance just to walk?
    • That is the correct response, get the people off the road. Elevated platform tunnels etc etc etc.

      It realy does not matter as automated cars have to take pedestrians into account outside of cities we have plenty of rarely used crosswalks that do not have stop signs and traffic laws to always yield to crossing pedestrians. It actualy works here in the burbs/rural setting.

  • This is all great - I can see it might actually work (but then again, it might not).

    But I am typically a pedestrian. How will I cross the street? Do these smart cars just do their "ballet dance" around me? Do I press a button and tell all cars to stop, while I proceed through the intersection? All the article can say is

    seamlessly knitting together flows of cars, pedestrians and bikers.

    How, exactly? I can see a system of autonomous cars being able to do this, but TFA mentions squat about how it will handle bicycles and pedestrians; only that somehow, magically, it will. T

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      Seems to me they left out a rather important thing about intersections - the humans using them are inherently unpredictable.

      Not at all. When you're driving and you see a pedestrian walking up to the intersection, you have several seconds of visibility before he or she reaches the edge of the curb. If you'll arrive first, you keep driving. If the pedestrian will arrive first, you stop. If you aren't sure, you stop.

      And with computers driving, the car five cars ahead of you spots the pedestrian, and your c

    • How will I cross the street?

      You'll call up an autonomous car, obviously!

      "Hello, car. Please take me across the street."

  • We can dispense with them already by using roundabouts.

  • Problem is humans are at the core selfish assholes, which is why we have traffic lights.

    • by rwyoder ( 759998 )

      Problem is humans are at the core selfish assholes, which is why we have traffic lights.

      Agreed. In the excellent book "Traffic", (by Tom Vanderbilt), he cites studies showing that in comparison to traffic lights, roundabouts:
      - Move a lot more traffic.
      - Have a fraction of the accidents.
      - Have much less severe accidents, resulting in a fraction of the fatalities.
       

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Saturday March 19, 2016 @05:35PM (#51733907)
    I believe that I have seen animations for driverless cars careening through intersections for years, as in going back to the 70s.

    What I find much more fascinating is the economic impact of this sort of thing. How much economic activity is generated by traffic lights. Obviously there are the companies making them, maintaining them, their electrical usage, the cost in having people idle at them, and the ticket taxes generated by having police ticket people for not obeying the tax laws.

    I would not be surprised that the savings to the taxpayer and the public by removing a single unimportant traffic light could be well in excess of $100,000 per year. For instance there was one major downtown street near my old house where they had the lights perfectly timed so that you pretty much missed all of them. Thus the average speed on that street in low traffic was maybe 15mph tops. With about 8 lights and the street being 1.5 miles the savings in time alone to get that up to 25mph would be astounding, let alone in gas.

    Also many busy intersections are pretty much car accident factories. So to remove those would be just another layer of costs removed.

    But what is interesting about all the above costs is that they are all very parasitical. Most of the costs in having a traffic light don't really "benefit" society. Obviously a typical traffic light today massively reduces accidents and other problems but when we have 100% SDCs their removal will only be a net benefit to all.

    Where this is also going to get interesting is that some traffic lights are political. For instance there is a neighbourhood in my old city where a 3 way stop was replaced with a traffic light. This then encouraged people to take a short cut through a rich influential neighbourhood so within about 10 days the light was removed and went back to a 3 way stop. I can see attempts to prevent self driving cars from "navigating" through rich neighbourhoods but that is going to impinge upon fundamental freedoms and those laws are going to be hard to sustain. But with enough political influence there will be a way to keep the plebs away from the rich. Which will simply be part and parcel of the many many stupid laws that I see coming when politicians don't realize that every stupid traffic law they implement will be diligently followed by computerized cars. I can see every squeaky wheel along rural highways calling for the speed limit to be dropped in front of their house because of "the children" thus the speed limit will be very much an indication of how influential any given household is in rural communities.
  • I don't know about Europe, but in the US, Internet connections are crap. Utterly unreliable and slow. There's no way in hell vehicles will be using the Internet for mission-critical stuff. No way. We have no infrastructure to support it, and as long as the government is bribed to not regulate it, we never will.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Europe? Wired Internet is usually pretty reliable, wireless networks are very reliable. And the last electrical outage where I live was more than 10 years ago. But this is about vehicle-to-vehicle communication over short ranges, an entirely different thing.

  • Before doing that it would be very advantageous and far simpler to review the algorithms controlling existing traffic lights, which seem to have been devised by idiots.

    There are junctions near me where the lights hold everything stopped for anything up to 30 seconds (and there no pedestrians crossing, in case you were wondering). Another junction has a pedestrian crossing 25 yards before it, and the two sets of lights are not synchronised; usually they are out of phase so when the junction lights go gre
    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      You're operating under the mistaken notion that the primary purpose of traffic lights is to increase safety and maximize throughput. In reality, the primary purpose of traffic lights is to make city streets so annoyingly slow that drivers will be forced to get on the freeway as soon as possible, then sit there at 3 MPH. It's called "traffic calming", mostly ironically, as the primary effect appears to be an uptick in road rage.... :-D

      • You're operating under the mistaken notion that the primary purpose of traffic lights is to increase safety and maximize throughput. ...It's called "traffic calming",

        I'm not under that notion at all, well aware that it is for "calming", as you can see from other posts of mine here, now and in the past :-). As you say, it's infuriating, not calming, and I have even complained to my local council about it.

  • Neither MIT nor anybody else has shown me how their autonomous cars will work with the potholes on Michigan roads, the black ice common in this area, ice in general, the lack of municipal funds to plow many roads, driving on the highway with 6-12 inches of snow on the ground with more coming down, or driving with whiteout conditions where the road is not visible. In Michigan in many places no indication of lanes is visible. The local residents simply memorize where the paint used to be. It's very exciting t

    • As a fellow Michigan resident, I'd rather fix whatever policy or lack of oversight that allows our roads to be so bad (when they are paved) and the madness that is refusing to pave roads in major metro areas in the first place. I almost feel ashamed to live in this area - why are people so against making first-class infrastructure? (Cue theories about the mob, wanting to encourage more new car sales, and similar here.)

      And I second the comment on the terrible lane paint they use here; any time the roads get

  • My son and I were just talking about this idea a couple of weeks ago. What we were focused on is how much fuel and break pads would be saved by eliminating traffic lights. Here in Vermont they've been putting in a lot of round abouts which have a similar effect but it would be even better we thought if auto autos communicated with each other and solved this.

  • All it will take is one idiot on their cellphone trying to cross the light-less intersection to show MIT just how short-sighted this idea truly is.

  • Already been done with traffic circles.
    In some places these are problematic due to some people being too stupid to drive

  • It seems like the assumption is that all cars are willing to participate in the communication necessary to coordinate the traffic flowing in each direction to avoid collisions. When that happens, I think it would be like Japanese synchronized walking. [youtube.com] But if you throw an older, human-driven car into the mix, does the coordinated effort break down? If you threw someone who hadn't practiced with the group into that YouTube demonstration, it would quickly devolve into chaos.

    Not everyone is going to want to t
  • ... with no traffic lights, how will I know when to accelerate like I do now on an amber?

  • Pedestrians? Cyclists?

    Not everything is going to be controlled by computer

  • ...those pesky humans who want to cross the street. If only we could find a way to autonomously walk, we could program humans not to be so annoying.

What is now proved was once only imagin'd. -- William Blake

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