• Traffic lights could be a thing of the past, say a research lab at MIT. (AAP)Source: AAP
Some of the brightest minds in automotive engineering and technology believe one day traffic lights will be redundant.
Shami Sivasubramanian

29 Mar 2016 - 3:36 PM  UPDATED 29 Mar 2016 - 3:36 PM

When the brightest minds from the most prestigious technological institutes say traffic lights will soon be a relic of the past, it puts even the greatest sceptic in a confusing predicament.

MIT's Senseable City Lab discuss this traffic evolution in a recent paper published in PLOS One, describing the cars as shooting past like high-speed protons, with an efficiency and deftness beyond human skill.

Instead of drivers queuing up behind traffic lights, the lab team says self-driving cars of the future will be able to regulate their speed, gauge traffic, and pass through an intersection at just the right time, using a "slot-based system" of navigating traffic. Such new-fangled intersections could make traffic lights obsolete.

Here's a video simulation to better explain what the scientists have in mind.

However, this new technology and mode of driving needs a few things.

Firstly, it requires the mainstream use of self-driving cars - and this could be a lot closer to becoming reality than we imagine. 

Secondly, this new system is hinged upon a reliable, strong internet connection that allows data from each car to be synced together. These internet connections may even be used by the car to communicate with signage, the road, or other parts of the traffic infrastructure.

"For example, vehicles might communicate with roadside infrastructure and other vehicles to produce better coordinated flows," the authors write. "Furthermore, autonomous driving is starting to enable the careful control of vehicle trajectories and the synchronization of their arrival times at the intersections."

One more prerequisite to seeing this new mode of traffic culture take hold is the establishment of a ground traffic control similar to that of an air traffic control. The study actually draws several comparisons between the two modes of transport.

"The underlying principle resembles slot-based control systems used for the management of planes at airports," reads the paper.

Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, Carlo Ratti has told the Boston Globe that his team has been working closely with the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport in Singapore in hopes of experimenting with the new technology there.

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