Slowing ourselves down: Autonomous cars speed up traffic, study shows

  • TECH
  • Monday, 10 Jun 2019

According to new research, a fleet of driverless cars working in unison can improve overall traffic flow by at least 35 per cent. Photo: Jochen Tack/imageBROKER/dpa

You might fancy yourself as a bit of racer, but researchers have found that the very fact that you're human means you're probably slowing down traffic. 

According to a study by the university of Cambridge, a fleet of driverless cars working in unison can improve overall traffic flow by at least 35%. 

In the study, researchers programmed a small fleet of miniature robotic cars to drive on a multi-lane track, observing the change in traffic flow once a car stopped. 

Like with our current situation on the roads, testers found that when cars didn't communicate with each other, any traffic behind a stopped car had to stop or slow down, leading to queues and slowing traffic flow. 

However, once the cars started communicating with each other and driving cooperatively, one car stopping did not have the same negative impact on traffic. 

As soon as one car stopped in the inner lane, it sent a signal to all the other vehicles, alerting the cars in the outer lane to slow down slightly, letting cars in the inner lane pass without significant delays. 

Likewise, when a human-controlled driver was put on the "road" and started driving aggressively, the other cars were able to safely avoid any collisions. 

The practical aim of the research was to promote the potential for improved safety and traffic flow that self-driving cars pose, if properly utilised. 

"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," said co-author Nicholas Hyldmar. 

The researchers plan to use the fleet to test multi-car systems in more complex scenarios including roads with more lanes, intersections and a with wider range of vehicle types. 

"Autonomous cars could fix a lot of different problems associated with driving in cities," said co-author Michael He. – dpa

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