Saving Self-Driving Cars From Traffic Jams

Fagjun | Published 2017-06-11 00:34

It's likely that in the future, more and more self-driving cars will be cruising the streets. Thus, it's logical to assume that these cars of the future may experience traffic jams that the cars of today experience.

However, the future of cars doesn't have to be that way. To admit that even a self-driving car will get stuck in traffic is to say that traffic is an incurable condition. Luckily, this isn't the case and it doesn't have to be. Two graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley have figured out a way to keep autonomous vehicles out of traffic jams.

Grad students Anthony Barrs and Baiyu Chen came up with a system they call Hyperlane. In this system, autonomous vehicles will whiz at 161 kilometers per second past manned vehicles on all roads.


Hyperlane's design concept
[Image by Anthony Barrs and Baiyu Chen]

Hyperlane will work much like high-speed toll lanes. Basically, it's a single platform as wide as four interstate lanes. It will run parallel to existing highways, so self-driving cars will run alongside manned cars. This way, autonomous vehicles will never get into traffic jams.

The difference from high-speed systems, however, is that Hyperlane will have a central computer that can keep the cars in the system safe. Hyperlane will have embedded sensor technology that will regulate traffic flow. Barrs and Chen also project that this system will be cheaper than other high-speed rail systems. The most recent cost estimate for the Los Angeles to San Francisco rail is $139 million per mile. Hyperlane will cost only about $ 12 million per mile.

Barrs and Chen say that Hyperlane can become a reality by 2050. Apparently, transportation experts think that this is a good estimate. Barrs and Chen won a $50,000 prize for Hyperlane at the Infrastructure Vision Challenge. This competition focused on designs that can potentially solve the biggest infrastructure projects in the US.

According to Barrs and Chen, they took inspiration from bullet trains and high-speed rails in Japan to come up with their design. “[W]e started to deconstruct the high-speed rail experience and that’s when we realized we could remove the tracks and deploy new, emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles," says Barrs.

Paving the Way for Self-Driving Cars

Living life in the Hyperlane
[Photo by Caleb George]

So what exactly would Hyperlane look like? There are two choices. Cities can build Hyperlane by taking lanes in existing highways. Building a lane parallel to existing highways can also work. Of course, as of now, Hyperlane is still theoretical. Also, Barrs and Chen still need to find investors that will allow them to take the project to physical testing. They also have yet to do some theoretical testing outside of the San Francisco Bay area.

Thus, in the meantime at least, self-driving cars will have to sit in traffic like the rest of us. It's not like there's a lot of them; autonomous vehicles can't legally hit the roads yet in many places. When it's legal for these cars to get on the road, however, it'll probably be before Hyperlane comes into existence. They'll have to sit in traffic until then. Of course, they won't have to in a couple of decades, should Hyperlane come to fruition.

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