Researchers from the University of Cambridge have said that driverless cars working together can speed up traffic by 35%.
The researchers programmed a small fleet of miniature robotic cars to drive on a multi-lane track and observed how the traffic flow changed when one of the cars stopped.
The study showed that 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. A queue quickly formed behind the stopped car and overall traffic flow was slowed.
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 cars. Cars in the outer lane that were in immediate proximity of the stopped car slowed down slightly so that cars in the inner lane were able to quickly pass the stopped car without having to stop or slow down significantly.
The results were presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Montréal.
The researchers said that the results will be useful for studying how autonomous cars can communicate with each other, and with cars controlled by human drivers, on real roads in the future.
Michael He, an undergraduate student at St John’s College, designed the algorithms for the experiment, whilst Nicholas Hyldmar, an undergraduate student at Downing College, designed much of the hardware.
‘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,’ said He, who designed the algorithms for the experiment.
Hyldmar and He completed the work as part of an undergraduate research project in summer 2018, in the lab of Dr Amanda Prorok from Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology.
‘Our design allows for a wide range of practical, low-cost experiments to be carried out on autonomous cars,’ said Prorok. ‘For autonomous cars to be safely used on real roads, we need to know how they will interact with each other to improve safety and traffic flow.’