MIT-Bred Technology Would Let Cars Help Each Other Avoid Traffic Jams

Researchers at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy used vir­tu­al tokens, cell­phones and vehi­cle-to-vehi­cle wire­less LANs to build a sys­tem for allo­cat­ing the lim­it­ed space avail­able on major thor­ough­fares. It doesn’t require any phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture, such as toll­booths, so it could be imple­ment­ed quick­ly almost any­where, they said.

Instead of using cam­eras or elec­tron­ic toll­booths by the road­way to detect cars pass­ing a cer­tain point, the MIT sys­tem, called Road­Run­ner, is based on GPS (Glob­al Posi­tion­ing Sys­tem) infor­ma­tion from the driver’s cell­phone in each car. As more cars get con­nect­ed to the Inter­net, the sys­tem may be able to go into the car itself, accord­ing to Jason Gao, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing and com­put­er sci­ence who devel­oped the sys­tem with Pro­fes­sor Li-Shi­uan Peh.

Road­Run­ner is designed to solve the prob­lem of con­gest­ed roads, with or with­out a gov­ern­ment charg­ing tolls for dri­ving in crowd­ed areas dur­ing rush hour. Once it detects that a par­tic­u­lar route is crowd­ed, Road­Run­ner gen­er­ates dri­ving direc­tions to approach­ing cars that rec­om­mend a dif­fer­ent way to go.

At the heart of Road­Run­ner is a lim­it­ed set of tokens that the sys­tem assigns to vehi­cles with­in the affect­ed area. When the road isn’t crowd­ed, every dri­ver enter­ing the zone receives a token, but as it fills up, lat­er arrivals get the alter­nate dri­ving direc­tions instead. There’s noth­ing to stop a car from cross­ing the line with­out a token, but that action could trig­ger a fine if law enforce­ment want­ed to impose one.

The sys­tem doesn’t track the pre­cise loca­tion of each car. Instead, the serv­er only reg­is­ters whether a car is inside or out­side the con­ges­tion zone and whether it has a token.

To speed up the shar­ing of tokens, Road­Run­ner takes advan­tage of IEEE 802.11p, a vehi­cle-to-vehi­cle (V2V) vari­ant of the tech­nol­o­gy behind Wi-Fi. Ini­tial­ly, a serv­er gen­er­ates the tokens and dis­trib­utes them to cars via cel­lu­lar, but after that, the cars can pass them direct­ly to one anoth­er via 802.11p. The V2V net­work can trans­fer tokens faster because it has low­er laten­cy than cel­lu­lar, and using it cuts down on cell traf­fic.

IEEE 802.11p is start­ing to emerge as a key tech­nol­o­gy for self-dri­ving vehi­cles and for semi-autonomous safe­ty net­works that may pre­cede cars that dri­ve all by them­selves.

It’s also being used for prox­im­i­ty warn­ing sys­tems that let one vehi­cle tell anoth­er when it’s enter­ing an inter­sec­tion. If two cars are approach­ing that inter­sec­tion at full speed, such as at a blind inter­sec­tion, the V2V net­work can send an alert that trig­gers alarms to the dri­ver in each car.

Road­Run­ner might be an alter­na­tive to the con­ges­tion-con­trol sys­tem in Sin­ga­pore, one of the world’s most advanced, which levies dif­fer­ent tolls based on the amount of traf­fic on the stretch of road that a dri­ver is enter­ing. Singapore’s cur­rent sys­tem uses gantries, or struc­tures built over the road­way, that com­mu­ni­cate with transpon­ders in each car. That means the Land Tran­sit Author­i­ty, which oper­ates the sys­tem, can only reg­u­late con­ges­tion where it’s built a gantry.

By con­trast, Road­Run­ner can be set up in any area, based on GPS coor­di­nates, and can point dri­vers to alter­na­tive routes to help them avoid the con­gest­ed area.


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