An average driver will spend up to one week per year stuck in traffic. Ozan Tonguz, a telecommunications researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been coming up with an innovative solution to this problem. His company, Virtual Traffic Lights, has recently patented an algorithm that is intended to allow stoplights to direct traffic at a busy intersection.
His team is looking at the way ants, termites, and bees communicate right of way in busy colonies and hives. When cars approach the intersection, dedicated short-range communication equipment relays back the information of how many cars are approaching and which direction they are headed. The largest group is prioritized, and once they have passed through the intersection, the next largest group will be given the green light. Simulations over the past three years have shown the system could reduce commute time for urban workers between 40 to 60 per cent during rush hour.
Reducing traffic on the roads will also go a long way in reducing the environmental impact of driving a car. Since it began in 2009, the project has attracted $2 million in funding from private groups and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. The team is now working on algorithms that will take pedestrians and cyclists into account at intersections. Large-scale testing is due to begin next year.