Could self-driving cars signal the end of traffic lights?

Stopping for red lights is not required by law unless they are flashing.
–George Rizer/Globe Staff

The anticipated benefits of self-driving cars include safer roadways for drivers and pedestrians, fewer traffic violations, and an easier time finding parking spaces.

But researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab, a research initiative focused on how technology will change traditional urban design structures, are adding one more potential perk to the list: no more waiting at a traffic intersection for a signal to turn green.

That’s because autonomous vehicles could eliminate the need for this particular type of traffic infrastructure by relying on what they call “slot-based’’ intersections. By communicating with each other over internet connections, self-driving vehicles will be able to regulate their own speeds to safely navigate oncoming traffic.

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From The Boston Globe:

“When sensor-laden vehicles approach an intersection, they can communicate their presence and remain at a safe distance from each other, rather than grinding to a halt at traffic lights,’’ explains Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab, in an email. “By removing the waits caused by traffic lights, slot-based intersections create a system that is much more efficient.’’

Fewer delays at traffic lights could greatly ease congestion and reduce carbon emissions.

In order to make the slot-based intersections a reality, self-driving vehicles will need to be able to exchange data smoothly. Researchers also believe a central system to organize traffic flows will be necessary.

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