When most people think "Robocop", they think of the hero of Detroit, clumping around making law-enforcement pronouncements in a forceful monotone backed up by a gun with a seemingly bottomless magazine. But when it comes to driverless cars, the term "robocop" is taking on a new meaning as a system to better control intersection use, now developed but still waiting to see wide use from students and professors at Virginia Tech.
The developments made by Hesham Rakha, professor of engineering at Virginia Tech, and doctoral student Ismail Zohdy, began with the assumption that, in the future, pretty much everybody would be using a driverless car. Moreover, they assumed that this was a near-term development rather than an item of the far-flung future; developments like Google's line of driverless cars, Stanford University's line of research vehicles, and recent changes to the laws allowing for their use on the roadways contribute to a future in which users no longer drive their own cars.
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This led to their development of the intelligent crossroad, which would expedite the flow of traffic through its borders and improve wait times for each vehicle by an average of 35 seconds at every stoplight. How it would work is that vehicles approaching an intersection would send data to the intersection about their current speed and location via a wireless connection to a central controller, which would then evaluate conditions on the ground to determine either which lane to route the vehicle into or whether the vehicle would have to stop and wait. Thus, instead of a stoplight system in which one side gets unfettered access for a period followed by another side, the whole intersection is constantly moving, and no one's left waiting at a red light with no cars going through the intersection just because it's time for the empty strip of road to have a turn.
Keeping vehicles moving at steady speeds has been shown to improve fuel economy, and also reduce both delays and emissions, making their use fairly smart for just about any municipality. Of course, telling these municipalities that they'll have to replace stop lights with high-powered computer-driven intersections will likely not go over well, especially as many municipalities are already struggling to keep their metaphorical heads above the equally metaphorical water. They're not going to take kindly to the thought of wide-scale intersection revamping, and their residents will likely take even less kindly to being approached for extra tax dollars to bring these intersections into play.
Still, there are significant possibilities involved in a system like this, and most do welcome the thought of a car that can be driven without the need to actually drive it, so the Virginia Tech "traffic robocop" intersection may be much more likely to happen than some may think.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman