As millions of people will be traveling between states to visit family and friends this holiday season, many will encounter traffic standstills for no apparent reason – no roadworks or accidents. According to researchers, these phantom traffic jams happen when traffic flow gets interrupted, and drivers start to break one after another. Luckily, technology may be able to fix that problem through artificial intelligence and intercommunication between cars.
In this article, we will explore how a recent study by researchers at Vanderbilt has produced a simple solution to solve the massive irritant in most of our lives, phantom traffic.
The People Problem
You may not have heard the term phantom traffic before, but it is the most common type of traffic we will experience while driving in a busy city. Phantom traffic occurs when somebody at the “front” of the traffic slightly taps their break, perhaps because of merging traffic or for various other reasons. Following this, when a person drives too close behind them, they will have to press the brakes even harder to slow down, and the next person even harder until the point at which traffic comes to a complete halt.
Phantom traffic is why you can be driving at 70 miles an hour through downtown L.A. when suddenly, a traffic jam comes out of nowhere, leaving you crawling through the streets but allowing you to start driving moments later with no apparent reason for stopping.
A.I. in Driving
Artificial intelligence in driving has been used in the industry for quite some time. It can be found in almost every new car using adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Although these technologies are invaluable to safety, they, too, are susceptible to causing phantom traffic.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to adaptive cruise A.I. Some are based on external infrastructure and the civil engineering world and continue to have impactful ramifications on your daily driving and safety.
Internal Automotive A.I.
Some car companies like Tesla have committed to almost entirely designing their cars around the autonomous experience. They rely heavily on artificial intelligence to understand the environment surrounding the vehicle based on visual data gathered by cameras.
Tesla is one of the only companies that uses full vision software aptly named “Tesla Vision.” Because Tesla relies heavily on A.I., the company has created its processing units and unique software to improve the driving situation of the vehicle. One of Tesla’s long-term goals is to have a fleet of fully autonomous taxi cabs driving people around where they need to go.
The fleet would push the boundaries of how artificial intelligence works with humans. However, as more vehicles become fully autonomous, they may be able to communicate with each other soon. This could help reduce reckless driving and road rage incidents causing phantom traffic (and potential traffic accidents that result in auto repair invoices and insurance claims).
A Vanderbilt research team was experimenting with communication-oriented artificial intelligence. The research team planned to generate models that can share driving information from one vehicle to the next within a localized area. When the “front” car starts to brake unnecessarily, the information will then be shared with nearby cars allowing time for them to comprehend and calculate the speed required to continue the flow of traffic and cause less unnecessary braking.
The vehicle-to-vehicle communication strategy was performed by 100 cars on I-24 between 6 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. The results are still being “calculated,” but it has been implied that there was a noticeable decrease in generated traffic.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published information regarding vehicle-to-vehicle communication. However, they state that the technology is only beneficial when all cars can communicate with each other within a 300-meter radius. There are still too many human factors that will cause traffic jams, like road rage.
The third alternative to traffic management is using external infrastructure outside your car. This includes better traffic management tools like stop lights and on-ramp metering systems.
Cities around the United States have implemented AI-powered traffic management tools to improve traffic flow in high-density areas. They have used this technology to synchronize traffic lights to larger masses of vehicles as it can be more helpful in preventing traffic jams than giving each direction of an intersection a specific time frame to pass through. Traffic systems using artificial intelligence have been shown to result in a 15% reduction in traffic (and reduced jaywalking as well).
Each year, Americans spend 97 hours in traffic on average and lose about $1,348 because of it. There is a great incentive for civil engineers and software developers to create a sustainable solution for the general public that the government can invest in.
Who’s Doing It?
As of the start of December 2022, there have yet to be industry-wide protocols to distribute V2V across new vehicles. However, legacy automakers have made a few attempts to induce the technology in new cars. The Mercedes S-Class and C-Class of 2018 and 2017, as well as the 2017 Cadillac CTS, all came equipped with V2V tech.
There are ongoing legal fights to include V2V as a standard automotive safety requirement, and the FCC has designated the 5.9 GHz band for commercial automotive use. For now, it is not being used to its full potential.
Although V2V is not the cool, technologically advanced system we all hoped for, there are manual examples of V2V in use right now.
For example, the Waze smartphone app could be considered part of the industry. When a driver comes across an obstruction or speed trap, users can alert other drivers, making them aware of the problem in advance. It may not be the car communicating directly with other cars, but as the vehicle’s driver, you are its brain.
V2V communication is a seemingly small barrier to improving most people’s lives on the roads. It can reduce traffic, help with reporting crashes, reduce road rage, and improve the environment, but it just doesn’t seem to be a priority for auto manufacturers for now. Within the next decade, however, we should see more intercommunication between cars, and perhaps it starts from industry with semi-truck convoys.
You may be interested in: What Does the Future Hold for the Automotive Industry