A Few Self-Driving Cars on the Road can Significantly Reduce Traffic Israeli Study Finds

Companies – including several Israeli firms – working on the development of autonomous vehicles (AV) aroused tremendous hopes around the world that traffic accidents and deaths might be prevented, people could read a book while going to work and that they could do without their own vehicles altogether by just hiring an AV for each trip.

When there were some fatalities in accidents that involved experimental AVs driving among (careless) humans, some experts warned that it would be impossible to use a minority of robotic cars when ordinary cars were still driven by people. 

It is ironic that even though Israel doesn’t manufacture any cars of its own, numerous Israeli vehicle-technology startups and the local branches of multinationals have sprouted up here, showing at exhibitions their developments in artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, connectivity and autonomous driving.

Mobileye, which today sells large number of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems that warn drivers when they get too close, is among the leaders in working on AVs using algorithms and stereoscopic, radar and laser sensors. Qualcomm has also announced its interest in the field and plans to specialize in robot taxis. announced its strategic entry into competition in the field. InnovizOne is another Israeli company that is working on automotive-grade light-detection and -ranging devices for AVs. 

Cognata, for example, uses AI and computer vision to simulate 3D real cities to study how AV would function. A company called Autotalks has develop technology that makes it possible for two self-driving cars to communicate with each other even when visibility is poor and predict risks for collisions. Otonomo has developed a system for sharing driving information with third parties – car manufacturers, insurance companies and managers of vehicle fleets. 

Now, researchers at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv) offer some optimistic news regarding safer robot cars. With the addition of just a small number AVs on the road, traffic flow can become faster, greener and safer in the near future, they write in the Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical under the title: “A minority of self-organizing autonomous vehicles significantly increase freeway traffic.” 

Dr. Amir Goldental and Prof. Ido Kanter from BIU’s physics department focused on the anticipated hybrid traffic flow of the future, which will combine traditional, human-operated vehicles with a small fraction of AVs. This scenario has raised several questions such as whether traffic flow would actually improve and, if so, how many AVs would be required to produce significant change.

It may seem that a large number of AVs is required for a significant impact on traffic flow, especially on multilane freeways, as human drivers can simply ignore and bypass AVs. But this isn’t necessarily so, the BIU researchers wrote.  In their study, they presented a simple set of guidelines and regulations for achieving the self-organization of AVs into constellations that dynamically control the entire traffic flow.

They suggested guidelines for efficient regulations, such as that AVs could cooperate and significantly enhance traffic flow even when fewer than five percent of the vehicles on the road are autonomous. 

In their article, the researchers describe how AVs should behave on a freeway to self-organize into groups that split the traffic flow into controllable clusters. They noted that it takes less than two minutes to achieve self-organized high-speed, greener and safer traffic flow when starting from congested traffic.

“Without regulations on AVs, we face a classic example of game theory paradox, such as the prisoner’s dilemma, in which each vehicle tries to optimize its driving speed but the overall traffic flow is not optimal. In our research we examine how, with proper regulations, a very small number of AVs can improve the overall traffic flow significantly, through cooperation,” explained Goldental.

Quantitatively, the authors report a substantial increase of up to 40% in traffic-flow speed with up to a 28% decrease in fuel consumption. Also, traffic safety is enhanced, as traffic becomes more ordered and fewer vehicles shift from one lane to another.  The study shows that these improvements can be achieved without a central agent that governs AVs and without communication between AVs using current infrastructure.


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