Self-driving cars could lead to a fourth, white traffic signal — or none at all: researchers

The advent of self-driving cars could lead to a number of changes to traffic laws, including a possible fourth traffic light, researchers say.

In addition to the ubiquitous red, yellow and green, a white light could signal that autonomous vehicles are in charge of the intersection. Or vehicles could eventually render the signals completely useless.

Ali Hajbabaie, an associate engineering professor at North Carolina State University, is among those imagining the future of traffic signals.

“When we come to the intersection, we stop if it’s red and we go if it’s green,” Hajbabaie told the Associated Press, “but if the white light is active, you just follow the vehicle in front of you.”


Intersection in Birmingham, Alabama

This undated photo provided by the University of Michigan College of Engineering shows vehicles crossing the signalized intersection at Old Woodward Avenue and East Maple, which was retimed using Optimized Signal as a Service in Birmi . (Jeremy Little/University of Michigan College of Engineering via AP/AP Images)

An alternative could be red and green flashing lights, without the need for a white light.

The changes can’t happen until about half of all vehicles on the road are autonomous, he acknowledged, but Henry Liu, a civil engineering professor at the University of Michigan, thinks that could be the time. as soon as possible.


“The pace of progress in artificial intelligence is very rapid, and I think it’s coming,” he told AP.

Researchers at the University of Michigan also won a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to test real-time traffic signal changes using car speed and location data.

A Waymo car

A Waymo autonomous vehicle drives along Masonic Avenue in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Getty Images)

The university is running a pilot program in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham.

“The beauty of this is you don’t have to do anything to the infrastructure,” Liu said, pointing out that Birmingham’s traffic lights operate on a fixed timer and don’t make any adjustments for different traffic flows. “The data doesn’t come from the infrastructure. It comes from the car manufacturers.”


More than half of traffic lights nationwide don’t account for congestion or lighter-than-normal traffic, such as in the middle of the night.

Liu said that while there are high-tech solutions for monitoring traffic, they require cities to make complex and expensive upgrades.

The first “municipal traffic control system” appeared in Cleveland in 1914, according to Smithsonian Magazine. At first there was only green and red, with yellow light added a few years later.

Dr. Xingmin Wang

Dr. Xingmin Wang, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, presents a visualization of connected vehicle trajectory data that helps with traffic signal optimization. (Jeremy Little/University of Michigan College of Engineering via AP/Getty Images)

Since then, the traffic lights have not changed much.

Although fully autonomous vehicles are not yet on the market, companies like Tesla, Mercedes, GM and Ford are bridging the gap, alongside Waymo, the autonomous ride-hailing service owned by Google parent company Alphabet.


“While it is good at this early stage of AV development that people are thinking creatively about how to facilitate the secure deployment of secure AVs, policymakers and infrastructure owners should do be careful not to launch too early into investments specific to AV which could prove useless. premature, if not unnecessary,” Waymo spokeswoman Sandy Karp said in an email to The Associated Press.

Karp noted that cars operate without a fourth light in some cities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Austin, Texas and San Francisco.

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe. Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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