Boston commuters know all too well the traffic problems that the Hub faces. The city was recently named the 13th most congested city in the US, thanks in part to seemingly-never-ending construction and frequent, random street closures. But luckily for us, our neighbors across the river at MIT have been working on a computerized solution to keep our cars out of congestion.
Electrical engineering and computer science graduate student Jason Gao, along with Professor Li-Shiuan Peh, have used virtual tokens, cell phones and vehicle-to-vehicle wireless LANs to build a system for dispersing cars throughout the limited space available on highways and busy roads.
The system, dubbed RoadRunner, is based on the GPS information from the driver’s cell phone in their cars, rather than on cameras or electronic tollbooths currently used to track cars passing certain points, according to MIT News. This makes it simple to implement, since there is no large infrastructure to build.
Here’s how it works: RoadRunner will use a limited set of tokens that the system will assign to vehicles entering an area of incoming traffic. If the road is clear, each passing car will get a token. Once the road becomes more and more congested, however, alternate routes are suggested for cars in lieu of a token. When a new route is suggested, the cars should take the new route until tokens are again offered on that road.
While there’s nothing directly stopping a car from using the road without a token, the action could get the driver slapped with a fine if law enforcement wanted to modify the system to charge one. And for those concerned about the privacy and security of the system, there’s no need to fear. The server doesn’t track the location of every car, and only registers cars inside the congestion zone and of they have a token.
Initially, the server will generate a token and give them out to cars via a cellular network. But if cars want to transfer tokens between themselves after receiving them, they have the ability to do that too. Think letting someone in a rush cut in front of you in line because you have the time to wait and they don’t.
All this nifty tech would hopefully cut down on rush-hour traffic and encourage alternative routes of travel, saving commuters (and, especially here in the Hub, tourists) time wasted cramming onto Storrow Drive when they could be at their destinations already.
A live test of RoadRunner was performed in Cambridge using external “radios” built into the dashboards of cars, while the driver’s smartphone, equipped with a RoadRunner app, controlled the radios. While some cars are already being built with the hardware needed to run the system, it’ll be some time until the technology can be fully used. Until then, we’ll just be hoping that self-driving cars can take care of avoiding traffic for us.
Image via Shutterstock